Monika Maron

Start Free Trial

Ursula R. Mahlendorf (review date autumn 1987)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 625

SOURCE: Mahlendorf, Ursula R. Review of Die Überläuferin, by Monika Maron. World Literature Today 61, no. 4 (autumn 1987): 619.

[In the following review, Mahlendorf offers a positive assessment of Die Überläuferin, noting that the novel is “eminently worth reading.”]

Even with her first narrative and dramatic works, the East German author Monika Maron established a reputation for excellence. Her texts are “admirably exact, imaginative, replete with anguished imagery, rhythmically and stylistically pure,” wrote Reinhard Kill in the Rheinische Post on 21 November 1983. Her second novel, Die Überläuferin (The Deserter), lives up to Maron's early promise in every way. Though her first novel, Flugasche, was a realistic critical portrayal of the GDR workaday world and particularly its bureaucracy, her second explores the private life of a sensitive intellectual woman, the historian Rosalind Polkowski, and the thinking of her alter ego, the rebellious anarchist, housewife, and poet Martha Mantel. In many respects Die Überläuferin is a woman-artist novel, for like other works of that genre it deals with the forces that shape the woman writer, forces that she has to contend with and overcome. Further, like other works of the genre, it is a quest novel, a search for identity and the meaning of an individual life. The forces Rosalind encounters on her quest are a bureaucratic and dehumanized society made up of male and female contemporaries with whom encounters are frustrating, intimidating, humiliating, sterile, and alienating.

At the beginning of the novel, Rosalind, like Kafka's Gregor, finds herself transformed and isolated in her room, her legs paralyzed and all life functions suspended. Freed from the deadening office routine that has crippled her and made her sterile, Rosalind pursues her remembrances and imaginings, tracing her life history beginning with her reluctance to leave the maternal womb and continuing through her encounters with, loss of, and final reunion with her alter ego Martha. Her childhood remembrances, overshadowed by bombings and the violence of war, reveal an oppressive family atmosphere in which the father rejects his daughter and the mother is helpless in dealing with both her husband and the world. Rosalind's remembrances are interrupted regularly by interludes of imagined dialogues with contemporary types like doctrinaire officials, slogan-touting citizens, friends, and past lovers. Frequently characters from these interludes intrude into the life narrative, blurring the boundaries between fantasy and remembrance. Simultaneously, the intrusion of fantasy into reality gives Maron the chance to play with the idea of the artist's control over her creations.

Like artist heroes from Rilke's Malte Laurids Brigge to Grass's Oskar Matzerath, to whom allusions are copious and deliberate, Maron's heroine is obsessed by and enamored with death, afraid of life, and oppressed by reality. Her alter ego Martha, on the other hand, participates in life with a gusto that fears neither sensuousness and sexuality nor the anarchistic activism that outrages and fascinates the timid and intellectual Rosalind. Maron's novel makes a valuable and insightful contribution by delineating the different life experiences of contemporary women, their individual and particular relationships to each other and to their society. Since the social criticism this delineation implies is directed against the dehumanization resulting from governmental regimentation and bureaucratic control, the criticism applies equally well to East and West. Maron is not concerned only with social issues, however. She cannot be pinned down to any particular political and feminist position. Although she understands the oppression her female characters are subject to, she neither condones nor excuses their games, self-deceptions, and weaknesses. Precisely because she is so psychologically ruthless in drawing her women characters, she conveys the contemporary female experience...

(This entire section contains 625 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

in a way the reader is not likely to forget. Both as a woman-artist novel and as a social critique of the contemporary world,Die Überläuferin is eminently worth reading.

Martin Kane (essay date 1990)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5746

SOURCE: Kane, Martin. “Culpabilities of the Imagination: The Novels of Monika Maron.” In Literature on the Threshold: The German Novel in the 1980s, edited by Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes, and Roland Smith, pp. 221-34. New York: Berg, 1990.

[In the following essay, Kane examines the efforts of Maron's female protagonists in Flugasche and Die Überläuferin to articulate the reality of East German life and to confront pressing social problems through inward and alienating modes of solitary fantasy and imaginative dramatization.]

Two sources have given me the cue for this paper. First, the title of Gerd Neumann's Die Schuld der Worte, a collection of prose pieces published in 1979.1 And secondly Monika Maron's opening contribution to the ‘Deutsch-deutsche Briefwechsel’ with Joseph von Westphalen conducted in the columns of the ZEITmagazin. In Maron's contemplation from an East Berlin perspective of the nature of the border separating the two Germanies, one observation in particular makes an impact: ‘Die Gesetze sind das Schlimmste, sie kriminalisieren schon die Träume.’2 What connects, in differing ways, these offerings from two GDR writers who still live3 in the country which denies them publication are their pointers to the literary imagination as a concocter of nefarious and subversive activity. Neumann's painfully self-reflexive endeavours with the language of his prose texts are a reaction to the cynicism—as he once put it—of socialist realism.4 His concept of the ‘Schuld der Worte’ refers explicitly to the failure of language to represent ‘Die Würde der Dinge,’5 but also hints at the consequences of attempting to overcome this: to dare to give a view of reality which is unadulterated and undistorted by ideological expediency is, implicitly, to become entangled in further levels of culpability and to be condemned, as one critic has put it, to ‘der traurigen Zukunft, daβ seine Bücher nicht in der DDR erscheinen werden.’6

The issues of language raised by Neumann's mode of writing, what has been called his ‘Krieg gegen die Sprache,’7 clearly would warrant separate treatment. But the purloining of his title may nevertheless serve its purpose here as an approach to the problems articulated in Monika Maron's two novels, Flugasche8 and Die Überläuferin.9

One is occasionally confronted with the agreeable problem of recommending to enquiring friends or colleagues who know little of GDR society and less about its literature a book or books which might satisfy their curiosity on both scores. Flugasche, hitherto published only in West Germany but which—had it not been for a series of faux pas committed by Maron in her ZEITmagazin correspondence—would have seen the light of day in 1988 in the GDR (albeit, as Maron herself noted cryptically ‘mit zehnjähriger Verspätung’10), commends itself admirably to this end, not least because it is also available in a passable English translation.11 In the dramatization it offers of the gulf between the GDR's official view of itself and the day-to-day realities of life there through a treatment of the world of work—encompassed in the different milieux of journalism and industry—this novel touches on many of those literary and social issues which lend the study of GDR literature its particular fascination: the role of women, the generation gap as it manifests itself in the problems of the offspring of the founding generation and, perhaps above all, the psychological effects of unrelenting exposure to ideological pressures.

The origins of Flugasche are to be found in Monika Maron's own experiences as a journalist working, until 1976, on the weekly Wochenpost. The novel's heroine, Josefa Nadler, is despatched by her editor to write a feature on B.—clearly Bitterfeld, a town celebrated for marking a particular stage in the development of East German literature, but seen here in its reputation as ‘die schmutzigste Stadt Europas’ (p. 36), a place where the air is flavoured daily by 180 tonnes of industrial filth, the bronchitis rate is five times higher than elsewhere, where trees ‘über Nacht ihre Blüte verlieren, als wäre ein böser Zauber über sie hinweggefegt,’ and which is dominated by a ‘Kraftwerk, in dem das Wort Sicherheit nicht erwähnt werden darf’ (pp. 58f).

On an initial level the novel deals with Josefa's failure to get her article about B. published and the conflict with colleagues and officials this precipitates, which threatens her membership of the Party. The psychological and cultural prerequisites for this conflict on which she will eventually founder are rapidly established. Her reflexions in the opening chapter of the novel about her grandparents, ‘Die Verrücktheit des Groβvaters war verlockend, verrückte Menschen erschienen mir freier als normale’ (p. 9), in conjunction with her own complex anxieties—‘Die Machtsucht primitiver Gemüter läβt mich zittern. … Was habe ich zu befürchten? Das Bett, in dem ich sterben werde. Die Leben, die ich nicht lebe. Die Monotonie bis zum Verfall und danach’ (p. 12)—outline a personality of incipiently anarchic and restless disposition who will be ill at ease with the task of delivering the identikit portraits of exemplary Helden der Arbeit and the bromide vision of the industrial milieu which her editor requires.

And so it proves. Her visit to Bitterfeld is a dramatic eye-opener. Of her ignorance of the appalling circumstances in which the people of the town live and work she asks: ‘Und warum habe ich das alles nicht gewuβt? Jede Woche steht etwas in der Zeitung über ein neues Produkt, über eine Veranstaltung im Kulturpalast, über vorfristig erfüllte Pläne, über den Orden des Kollegen Soundso. Nichts über das Kraftwerk, kein Wort von den Aschekammern, die das Schlimmste sind’ (p. 21).

Particularly telling is the experience at first hand of what she subsequently calls ‘die Gewalttätigkeit industrieller Arbeit’ (p. 81). A crucial confrontation with the stoker Hodriwitzka—a figure initially reminiscent of the conventional socialist-realist hero, but given here an entirely convincing contour—makes her determined not to follow the example of colleagues who had been similarly ‘betroffen und erschüttert’ (p. 21) but had gone away to produce whitewashing reports. Of greatest significance in this meeting with Hodriwitzka is Josefa's embarrassed realization—dramatized in her involuntary recoil from his coal-dust handshake—of the gulf between workers and intellectuals. It is a gulf which had allowed her to accept without questioning the newspaper image of B. and to dwell neatly isolated and untroubled in that realm of non-manual work which Thomas Brasch once described as being more instrumental in determining the quality of life than the ideological and political system under which one lives.12 Illustrating the divide of which she has suddenly been made aware, Josefa notes that ‘er sah mich an wie ein höflicher Chinese, mit dem man türkisch sprechen wollte’ (p. 50).

This divide between reporter and worker is treated in somewhat more reconciliatory fashion than it is in Gert Neumann's story ‘Die Reportagen,’ where journalists visiting a large building-project are treated with suspicion and barely muted hostility.13 Nevertheless, here and in a further abrasively humorous encounter with another worker, the red-haired Herrmann, which forces her to acknowledge her ‘uneingestandener, sozial verbrämter Standesdünkel’ (p. 141), the public ideology of the ‘Volksverbundenheit’ of the intellectual and of the solidarity forged by socialism between the different classes in the Workers' State is as resoundingly deflated as it is in Neumann's account.

Experiences such as these fortify Josefa's resolve to reject the solution of her friend Christian that she should write ‘zwei Varianten. Die erste wie es war, und eine zweite, die gedruckt werden kann’ (p. 24). She completes and submits her manuscript, setting in motion a process which begins with acknowledgement from Luise, her older colleague and mentor—‘Das ist eine Reportage so ganz nach meinem Herzen’ (p. 70)—but goes on to offer us unusual insights into the relationship between the mechanisms of censorship and journalistic practices in the GDR and the psychological repercussions for those involved in them. One example, the baleful vignette of Josefa's Illustrierte Woche colleague Fred Müller, who needs a liberal dose of schnaps daily to keep at bay the feelings of revulsion aroused by his job. Not until the alcohol has taken its numbing effect can he exercise his editorial function and ‘gleichmütig, als handele es sich um mathematische Formeln, die Sätze durch sein taubes Gehirn strömen lassen’ (p. 64). Recalling his earlier bitter and drunken outburst—‘Ich habe die ganze Scheiβe satt. Diese Arschlöcher. Schleimscheiβende Kriechtiere. Alles fette Ärsche und hohle Eierköpfe, Hirnaussauger!’ (p. 63)—we glimpse, as he goes about his work, a once creative talent stultified by over-exposure to the ideological image and cliché which are the stock-in-trade of his profession: ‘Die immer bessere Durchführung komplexer Wettbewerbsmethoden, das immer offene Ohr eines Bürgermeisters, die immer neueren Neuerermethoden befreit er vom gröbsten grammatikalischen und syntaktischen Unsinn. Die verbleibenden sprachlichen Ungereimtheiten folgen den eigenen Gesetzen einer Formelsprache und lassen sich nicht redigieren’ (p. 64).

Or, in Josefa's case, we are witness to the destructive effects, on an individual ill-equipped and unprepared to compromise, of blocks and hindrances to the expression of an authentic view of reality. At an early point in the novel she rehearses in an imaginary conversation with Luise the arguments which will ultimately lead her into fraught confrontation with her colleagues and authority: ‘Wem nützen unsere Schwindeleien, Luise’ (p. 34), she asks in an uncanny echo of the opening lines of Wolf Biermann's poem ‘Frage Antwort und Frage,’14 linking herself to all those critical spirits in the GDR who want to use their commitment to socialism as a springboard to more open discussion of its faults and deficiencies. But it must also be stressed at this point that Flugasche is much more than a dramatic disquisition on the obfuscatory ways of GDR journalism in its treatment of the world of work or of environmental problems.

What gives the novel its particular force is its wedding of these issues to questions of identity and self-realization, the search for what Josefa calls ‘die ihr gemäβe Biografie’ (p. 99). Her rejection of ‘Schizophrenie als Lebenshilfe’ (p. 24) is a refusal to compromise not only in her professional, but also in her private life. The desire for separateness and independence, not wanting to be defined in terms of a relationship with a man—‘die Angst, ein Vierbeiner zu sein’ (p. 42)—is as much an attempt to preserve her integrity as are her efforts to resist compromises in her work as a journalist. The two spheres are of course connected in a further sense, in that the possibility of personal fulfilment and private happiness is destroyed by her inability to function and operate as she would like in the public world: not being permitted honestly to record what she sees and experiences in her professional capacity destroys any chance of finding peace in her private life. She is the very opposite of what a character in Dieter Eue's novel Ketzers Jugend termed the ‘16 Millionen Schizophrene’ who make up the population of the GDR:15 not for her the comforting reassurance of Günter Gaus's ‘Nischengesellschaft’16—the rendering unto Caesar in her professional life balanced by the compensations of the private sphere. She desires to be all of a piece, but this proves to be an impossible and destructive desire. In a crucial exchange with Luise, she compares herself to a car travelling with the handbrake on: ‘ein Auto, das man hundert Kilometer mit angezogener Handbremse fährt, geht kaputt’; she feels cheated of her life: ‘Ich werde um mich selbst betrogen. … Sie betrügen mich um mich, um meine Eigenschaften. Alles, was ich bin, darf ich nicht sein’ (p. 78). She sees this, furthermore, not as a problem peculiar to her, but as part of a widespread malaise resulting from the very nature of GDR society. In one of the most highly charged passages in the novel she sketches a nightmare vision of a society emerging which is ruled entirely by cold rationality and in which only in dreams will the individual be able to find freedom of expression:

Und ein Mensch, glaubst du, der bleibt heil? Der geht auch kaputt. Er bleibt nicht stehen, fällt nicht um, aber er wird immer schwächer, bringt nichts mehr zustande. Seine wichtigste Beschäftigung wird die Kontrolle über sich selbst, das Verleugnen seiner Mentalität, seiner Gefühle. Er reibt sich auf in dem Kampf gegen sich selbst, stutzt seine Gedanken, ehe er sie denkt, verwirft die Worte, bevor er sie gesprochen hat, miβtraut seinen eignen Urteilen, schämt sich seiner Besonderheiten, verbietet sich seine Gefühle; und wenn sie sich nicht verbieten lassen, verschweigt er sie. Schlimmer noch: Allmählich beginnt er unter der künstlichen Armut seiner Persönlichkeit zu leiden und erfindet sich neue Eigenschaften, die ihm Lob und Anerkennung einbringen. Er wird vernünftig, bedächtig, ordentlich, geschäftig. Anfangs zuckt sein miβhandelter Charakter noch unter den Zwängen, aber langsam stirbt er ab, wagt sich nur noch in den Träumen hervor. … Noch vierzig oder fünfzig solcher Jahre, Luise, und die Menschen langweilen sich an sich selbst zu Tode. Dann sind die letzten Aufsässigen ausgestorben, und niemand wird die Kinder mehr ermutigen, mit der Welt zu spielen. Sie werden vom ersten Tag ihres Lebens an den knöchernen Ernst dieses Lebens kennenlernen. Ihre Lust wird getilgt durch maβvolle Regelung des Essens, des Spiels, des Lernens. Sie lernen Vernunft, ohne je unvernünftig gewesen zu sein. Armselige kretinöse Geschöpfe werden heranwachsen, und die Schöpferischen unter ihnen werden eine unbestimmte Trauer empfinden und eine Sehnsucht nach Lebendigem. Und wehe, sie finden es in sich selbst. Verstoβene und verlachte Auβenseiter werden sie sein. Verrückte, Spinner, Unverbesserliche. Du bist zu lebendig, wird man so einem sagen als schlimmsten Vorwurf. Ich denke nur, unsere Natur ist stärker als jedes noch so perfekte System der Nivellierung und bäumt sich auf, wenn sie zu tief gebeugt wird.

(pp. 78f)

It is inevitable that Josefa should seek to remedy this malaise, to find outlets for her frustrations and to counter-balance those forces which are robbing her of identity. She does this in part—and here we arrive at the nub of the argument—by excursions into fantasy and dream. Fantasy is escape, dream an expression of protest.

These various excursions take different forms. On the street a gust of wind catches her coat and she suddenly finds herself circling in the sky above the Alexanderplatz. Reality and fantasy merge here quite naturally to convey, in poetically literal fashion, a yearning to spread her wings and a desire to escape the deadening routine of everyday reality:

Und jetzt zur Sonne, Dädalus, ach ich weiβ schon, das darf man nicht. Brüder, zur Sonne, zur Freiheit; Brüder zum Lichte empor. Wir haben keine Zeit zum Fliegen. Wir müssen uns beeilen, immerzu beeilen. Zum Wurstladen, zur Sparkasse, ins Büro, in den Kindergarten, zur S-Bahn. Überall können wir zu spät kommen. Das Geld ist ausverkauft, die Sparkasse abgefahren, der Chef hat geschlossen, das Kind weint.

(p. 71)

But the motif of flying also signals Josefa's feelings of elation and relief at having completed the modest reportage about B. entirely according to her own lights: ‘Nichts Sensationelles, keine Entdeckung, kein Gedanke, den nicht jeder denken könnte, der einmal durch B. gelaufen ist. Nichts als der zaghafte Versuch, die Verhältnisse zu beschreiben, wie sie vorgefunden wurden. Trotzdem Grund genug zu fliegen’ (p. 73).

In the second part of Flugasche, as Josefa retreats to her bed to recapitulate and review her deepening personal and professional crises and her increasing alienation from her colleagues, the novel moves further into the sphere of her dreams and imagination. The second section opens directly in this vein—‘Es häuften sich die Träume, die in Josefa aufstiegen, sobald sie einen Fluchtweg fand aus den vielen Reden, die um sie herum geführt wurden und die sie selbst führte’ (p. 145)—paving the way for a species of dream cum self-induced dramatization of her inner tensions which anticipates the central preoccupation of her second novel Die Überläuferin and what one reviewer termed the ‘Theater im Kopf.’17 This very terminology points to a theatricalization of the psychological processes under scrutiny, to a puppet theatre of the soul:

Sie muβte nur auf eine spiegelnde Tischoberfläche oder in graue Wolken starren, bis sich der Vorhang vor ihre Augen spannte, hinter den sie ungehindert ihre Geschöpfe zitieren konnte … ob sie sich würde wehren können gegen ihre hämischen Gestalten. … Sie muβte nur die Augen öffnen, dann war sie ihnen entkommen, konnte sie in die Kiste sperren, bis sie Sehnsucht nach ihnen verspürte und ihnen ihre Spiele gestattete.

(pp. 145f)

Two dream-scenes follow each other in quick succession. In the first, an aged mother and daughter, in an all-pervasive lilac setting, are locked in a psychological and physical battle. The tyrannical domination by the mother, squashing her daughter's wish to learn and expand—‘“Ich will so gerne lesen können,” sagte die jüngere, “es ist so langweilig.” “Du hast deine Bilderbücher.”’ (pp. 147f)—clearly has its roots on one level in Josefa's relationship with Luise, as well as being in a broader sense an expression of the ubiquitous Bevormundung and prescriptiveness emanating from the political apparatus which have such an oppressive effect on her professional life. In a further scene Josefa sees herself—dramatically attired—striding on stage from a front row seat to deliver a passionate, bitter and, in part, ironical speech on the lamentable plight of women in the GDR and the nature of their sexuality. The all-woman audience respond enthusiastically but have seemingly comprehended and absorbed none of the urgency of her comment. Dramatically illustrated here are Josefa's grievances, despair and, perhaps above all, her sense of growing isolation.

What is common to these various examples of fantasy and dream is that they are essentially solitary activities, and solitary activity, in the society which Josefa Nadler inhabits, can as she is well aware be viewed only with suspicion. In an imaginary dialogue with Party colleagues, Josefa hints at the guilt, the culpability which retreat into an individual viewpoint, the exclusion of oneself from the ‘Wir,’ may incur:

Diese Genossen ‘Wir.’ Gegen mein klägliches ‘Ich habe gesehn’ stellen sie ihr unerschütterliches ‘Wir,’ und schon bin ich der Querulant, der Einzelgänger, der gegen den Strom schwimmt, unbelehrbar, arrogant, selbstherrlich. Sie verschanzen sich hinter ihrem ‘Wir,’ machen sich unsichtbar, unangreifbar. Aber wehe, ich gehe auf ihre majestätische Grammatik ein und nenne sie ‘ihr’ oder ‘sie,’ dann hageln ihre strengen Fragen: Wer sind ‘sie’? Wen meinst du konkret? Warum sagst du ‘ihr’ und nicht ‘wir’? Von wem distanzierst du dich?

(p. 33)

We leave unresolved the extent to which attitudes such as this result from her paranoia or a brand of abrasiveness which makes her the sort of person who, as Christian notes, would rather go head first through a wall than use the open door next to it. In this context, where to use ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ is to arouse distrust, in a society which in stressing collectivity seems to monotonize and level down existence, individual imagination and flights of fantasy become a way of escape, of asserting a sense of self. But they are also—by contravening generally accepted values—a way of incurring guilt. In one sense it could be argued that it is Josefa Nadler's very powers of imagination which make her unable to ignore or gloss over the reality of B. and which lead to her controversial and, by implication, criminal reportage. But on another, more complex level, they are the cause of her greater ‘crime.’ In the crucial move which leads to her downfall she leapfrogs accepted procedures and refers her reportage and grievances about the obstructiveness of Party colleagues to higher authority, to the ‘Höchste Rat.’ What is of most relevance to our deliberations here, however, is that the immediate trigger for this reprehensible and culpable move is not her reformer's zeal—the rational, crusading journalist side of her—but her fatal tendency to view a highly prosaic world in poetic terms. One day in Berlin she sees a ministerial car bringing the traffic to a halt. A familiar and everyday sight in the capital perhaps, but one which is transformed by her poetic fantasy into a scene of dramatic eeriness. A strange constellation, perceived only by Josefa, of light, sound, a bird falling dead as it is about to break into song and an official limousine moving as if through a silent vacuum, builds into paradigmatic significance: ‘Die Stille war es, dachte Josefa, die Totenstille. Sie schoben die Stille vor sich her; wohin sie auch kamen, die Stille war vor ihnen da. Sie müssen taub sein davon, dachte Josefa. Sie werden nichts wissen über B., sie können es gar nicht wissen. Sie … fuhr nach Hause, um den Brief zu schreiben’ (p. 176). It is as if the silence which seems in this moment to surround the car and the influential figures it is spiriting along is a symbol of the unreachability of the mighty, a metaphor for the imperviousness of the powerful to the complaints of the insignificant.

The letter which Josefa rushes home to write precipitates disastrous consequences. It alienates colleagues who might have been eventually won over to her reportage, and releases the avalanche of petty accusations and detailing of past misdemeanours which gives the orthodox and opportunistic the chance to debate whether she is worthy of remaining a member of the Party. But of most significance for our present argument is that this ‘crime’ has resulted from her responding with the intoxicating perception of the poet; it flows from the poet's gift of seeing the everyday in highly charged fashion. Imagination has made her culpable. When, on being confronted with her misdemeanour, she subsequently tries to offer this explanation for her behaviour she is met with blank and hostile incomprehension: ‘die schwarze Limousine, der tote Vogel, die Stille, es hätte gespenstisch geklungen, sagte Hans Schütz’ (p. 206).

It is at this point, as we begin perhaps to place the novel in a wider context and confront a society in which there seems little place for the vagaries of the poetic imagination, and where the hypersensitivities of the poet are regarded as pathological—‘Beweis für krankhafte Selbstüberschätzung’ (p. 206)—that a much wider vista opens up. As one example among many of what might befall the artistic temperament at the hands of a system too insistent on its rational and scientific principles, Günter Kunert and his defence of Kleist comes prominently into view.

The final pages of Flugasche find Josefa Nadler in bed, to which she has retreated, and from which perspective in time and place the second part of the novel has been narrated in flashback. Maron's second novel Die Überläuferin opens with its heroine, Rosalind Polkowski, likewise or similarly located: ‘Seit zwei Tagen lag, saβ sie im Bett, auf dem Teppich, im Sessel’ (p. 9). Despite the fact that the names and professional circumstances of their respective protagonists have been changed—Rosalind Polkowski works in an institute for historical research—the two novels nevertheless seem to flow one from the other and the second may be seen as a continuation of the problems left unresolved at the end of the first. In Flugasche we had seen someone relegating herself to the sidelines, put out of action by her failure to realize goals in both her private and professional life. We were witness to a kind of crippling of individual aspiration which was partly self-inflicted, partly the consequence of collective intransigence and expediency. The first novel was set largely in the real world, it dealt with the efforts of an individual to contribute to the solution of serious social problems—pollution and inhuman working conditions. Fantasy here had a directly social application. The imaginative sensibilities of Josefa Nadler enabled her to be shocked by the disturbing realities of life in B., but were also the cause of those breaches of discipline and of accepted norms of political behaviour which made her culpable and led to her fall from favour. They also had a further important role to play in the articulation of her difficulties and anguish, provoking the dreams, nightmares and escapist fantasies through which these were expressed.

In the second novel—billed on the dust jacket as beginning where Flugasche left off—we are presented with a heroine who is literally crippled, who is ‘lahmbeinig’ (p. 40). We move, furthermore, out of the real world, the world of the industrial milieu, the realm of journalism and the sphere of Party officials. Gone completely in Die Überläuferin are the elements of socialist-realist setting and character to be found in Flugasche and instead we move wholly into the realm of memory, fantasy and the world of the socially peripheral. But this novel is more than a continuation of aspects of a process begun in Flugasche, where Josefa Nadler had taken to her bed and increasingly retreated into her inner self. Rosalind Polkowski's story may also be seen as the attempt to show how the pieces of a shattered life may be gathered up, or at least how a modus vivendi and a way of dealing, however escapist, with one's perceived persecutors might be arrived at. The second novel, if not a complete answer to the problems posed by the first, could be interpreted as offering a kind of therapy for them.

What form does this therapy take? As Rosalind gives in to her ‘Bedürfnis nach Verzicht’ (p. 13) and is freed from the obligations of daily routine into a state of limbo, time ceases to be a tyrant and becomes instead ‘einen bemessenen Raum, in dem sie die Erlebnisse sammeln wollte wie Bücher in einer Bibliothek, ihr jederzeit zugängliche und abrufbare Erinnerungen,’ a place in which she is presented with ‘eine nicht endende Orgie phantastischer Ereignisse, ein wunderbares Chaos ohne Ziel und Zweck’ (p. 13). As these fantasies take shape, she becomes—as Josefa Nadler had been—a spectator of her own inner landscape.

After excursions into the past which begin with the catastrophic circumstances of her wartime birth, there develops, through a series of surreal ‘Zwischenspiele,’ a kind of Mad Hatter's Tea Party, a spectacle of endless permutations and possibilities in which Rosalind's ideological and spiritual adversaries, as well as a handful of eccentric women friends, are called up to act out their parts:

Nach einigen Augenblicken der Unsicherheit traute ich meinen Augen und verfolgte voller Spannung das mir dargebotene Spektakel, in meiner Aufmerksamkeit nur gestört durch eine übermütige Freude, hervorgerufen durch meine wunderbare neue Fähigkeit. Ein nüchternes Delirium, vernünftiger Wahnsinn, Traum ohne Schlaf. Sie spielten und spielten, während ich mir ausmalte, wen ich in Zukunft an mein eben gegründetes Zimmertheater berufen könnte. Jeden, alle, ob ich sie kannte oder nicht, alle könnte ich vor mir tanzen und reden lassen, selbst den Papst, wenn die Lust dazu mich ankäme.

(pp. 40f)

The inhabitants of this spectacle think of her as a ‘Gastgeberin.’ In fact she is a ringmaster who can control them at whim, summon or dismiss them as she wishes. The most dominant and aggressive figure, for instance, the man in red uniform, a symbol of authoritarian ideological inflexibility who later turns out to be a ‘Beauftragter der Staatlichen Behörde für Psychokontrolle’ (p. 122), can be immediately despatched into oblivion by the ‘Strafe des Vergessenwerdens’ (p. 41).

What initially appears to be a purely private and escapist process of controlling her fears and anxieties—she has after all had to cut herself off from the outside world in order to enact and exorcize them—is intercut with reflection on past experiences and individuals who have had an important role in her life, to produce a philosophy of much wider significance. This is anchored in the figure of Martha, Rosalind's alter ego and the epitome of the free and anarchic spirit that Rosalind had never been able to be. Martha, at an early point in her life—in a somewhat extravagant episode, typical of the awkward blend of the bizarre and the didactic which occasionally detracts from the effect of Die Überläuferin—had taken on board the philosophy of a renegade mathematics professor turned pirate chief:

du muβt deine nutzloseste Eigenschaft herausfinden. Denn schon ehe du geboren wurdest, hat man dich statistisch aufbereitet und deinen möglichen Nutzen errechnet: die durch dich verursachten Kosten im Kindesalter, die Verwendbarkeit während der Arbeitsphase, die zu erwartenden Nachkommen, die wieder entstehenden Kosten im Alter bis zum statistisch ausgewiesenen Sterbealter, kurz: deine Rentabilität ist veranschlagt und wird erwartet … Aber in jedem Menschen gibt es etwas, das sie nicht gebrauchen können, das Besondere, das Unberechenbare, Seele, Poesie, Musik … Dieses scheinbar nutzloseste Stück von dir muβt du finden und bewahren, das ist der Anfang deiner Biografie.

(pp. 50f)

This subversive, but eminently appealing advice from the pirate professor leads again to what may be seen as the dominant theme of this second of Monika Maron's novels: the culpability which certain kinds of imaginative expression can bring. It has to be said, however, that the dramatization of it in Die Überläuferin seems much more crass than had been the case in Flugasche. What in the first novel was delicately suggested and left to the reader to deduce, is here made painfully explicit. First Martha is called to account by ‘ein führendes Mitglied der Assoziation dichtender Männer’ who accuses her of crimes against literary taste—‘Wir haben Romantizismen, Lyrismen, Pathos, Selbstmitleid, Infantilismus und modisches Feministengeplapper nachweisen können’ (p. 156)—while Rosalind herself is accused of ‘unerlaubte Phantasie in Tateneinheit mit Benutzung derselben im Wiederholungsfall’ (p. 170). In other words, there tumbles out before us a bundle of entirely justified feminist, aesthetic grievances about a male-dominated, excessively rational and scientific world which seeks to shackle the imagination, and particularly the female one, in an ideological straitjacket; in the words of the man from ‘Psychokontrolle’: ‘Wer sagt denn, daβ ich gegen die Phantasie bin. Ich bin sogar für die Phantasie, für eine konstruktive, positive, saubere Phantasie’ (p. 171). Unfortunately, however, not only do we feel bludgeoned by ‘message’ at points such as these, but expression fails to do justice to the passion of the sentiment. Particularly in its final sections, the novel falls into a series of bizarre but essentially arbitrary images, which aim at the poetic allusiveness of the surreal, but decline into cabaretistic ephemerality.

Although neither of these novels has been published in the GDR, one may reasonably surmise that it is for quite different reasons. For all their more obvious closeness to the publicly unarticulated realities of the GDR and the vigour with which they prod its weak spots—those areas in which real existing socialism is palpably defective—there is at least an answer to be made to the criticisms voiced by Josefa Nadler in Flugasche. Through the figure of Luise, a staunch and plausible communist, Maron offers a reasonably persuasive response to them by drawing attention to the social and economic achievements of the GDR and by legitimizing the present system by reference to the iniquities of the past. Josefa herself indeed is briefly stopped in her tracks by Luise's arguments:

keine Gesellschaft kommt ohne ihre Kritiker aus. Aber dann kämpfe und hör auf zu jammern. Das sind nun mal die vielzitierten Mühen der Ebene, und kein Mensch hat uns versprochen, daβ sie ausbleiben. Wenn ich nicht tief überzeugt wäre, daβ unsere Mühe sich lohnt, auch wenn es länger dauert, als wir geglaubt haben, wäre ich längst nicht mehr hier.

(p. 84)

At the heart of Die Überläuferin there lies something potentially far more challenging. If the solution that Rosalind Polkowski has devised to cope with her problems is a pathological one—only by retreating from the world can one deal with it—then the brand of anarchic fantasy it proposes, the advocation by the heroine of the irrational and the mystical and her rejection of the notion that salvation may be found in ‘progress’ and scientific functionalism, constitute a profound threat—and not just to the ethos of the GDR and other socialist societies. Monika Maron has observed of her heroine Rosalind Polkowski:

Wenn ich glauben würde, das Problem dieser Figur in meinem Buch läge nur in der DDR, würde ich das Land verlassen. Wenn ich glauben würde, ich wäre frei davon, wenn ich das Land wechselte, würde ich gehen. Ich gehe eher von Grenzen aus, die innerhalb unserer Zivilisation liegen, in der Art der Industriegesellschaft, in der wir leben. Im Westen sind die Mechanismen gewiβ anders, aber sie würden mich auf ähnliche Weise belasten.18

The need, it would seem, for the liberating effects of fantasy and the poetic imagination is universal. It is, she implies, as potentially subversive to a capitalist as to a socialist way of ordering things.


  1. Gert Neumann, Die Schuld der Worte, Frankfurt/Main, 1979.

  2. Monika Maron, ‘Warum zieht es Euch nach Sachsen?,’ ZEITmagazin, 10 July 1987, p. 6.

  3. Monika Maron left the GDR in June 1988 (after the completion of this paper) on a three-year visa.

  4. See Egmont Hesse, ‘Geheimsprache “Klandestinität.” Gespräch mit Gert Neumann,’ Neue Rundschau, vol. 98, no. 2, 1987, p. 6.

  5. Ibid., p. 8.

  6. On the cover of Gert Neumann, Elf Uhr, Frankfurt/Main, 1981.

  7. Harald Hartung, ‘Der Krieg gegen die Sprache,’ Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 23 June 1979.

  8. Monika Maron, Flugasche, Frankfurt/Main, 1981. Page references in the text are to this edition.

  9. Monika Maron, Die Überläuferin, Frankfurt/Main, 1986. Page references in the text are to this edition.

  10. Monika Maron, ‘Kein Recht, sondern Gnade,’ ZEITmagazin, 2 October 1987, p. 6.

  11. Monika Maron, Flight of Ashes, trans. David Newton Marinelli, London, 1986.

  12. See Fritz J. Raddatz, ‘Für jeden Autor ist die Welt anders. Ein ZEIT-Gespräch mit dem aus der DDR ausgewanderten Schriftsteller Thomas Brasch über sein neues Buch Kargo und seine Erfahrungen im Westen,’ Die Zeit, 22 July 1977.

  13. In Neumann, Die Schuld der Worte, pp. 16-60.

  14. Wolf Biermann, Mit Marx- und Engelszungen, Berlin, 1968, p. 18.

  15. Dieter Eue, Ketzers Jugend, Hamburg, 1982, p. 325.

  16. See Günter Gaus, Wo Deutschland liegt. Eine Ortsbestimmung, Munich, 1986, pp. 115-69.

  17. Elsbeth Pulver, ‘Theater im Kopf. Monika Maron: Die Überläuferin,Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 9 January 1987, p. 37.

  18. ‘Literatur, das nicht gelebte Leben. Gespräch mit der Ostberliner Schriftstellerin Monika Maron,’ Süddeutsche Zeitung, 6 March 1987.

Ursula Love (review date summer 1992)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 543

SOURCE: Love, Ursula. Review of Stille Zeile Sechs, by Monika Maron. World Literature Today 66, no. 3 (summer 1992): 505.

[In the following review, Love evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Stille Zeile Sechs.]

In Monika Maron's third novel [Stille Zeile Sechs] the first-person narrator, Rosalind Polkowski, is a historian in her forties who resigns her job in a research center in East Berlin because she no longer intends to sell her intellect to a political system she abhors. In an act of passive resistance she withdraws into her private life hoping to find some measure of personal freedom by following such whimsical aspirations as learning to play the piano and translating opera libretti. However, a chance meeting with an aging party functionary, Herbert Beerenbaum, causes her to put her plans on hold. She agrees to type his autobiography, but in spite of her good intentions, she is unable to stay uninvolved and is drawn into a confrontation with Beerenbaum and all he represents to her.

Stille Zeile Sechs begins with Beerenbaum's funeral—he dies of a heart attack before the project is completed—and moves back and forth between the funeral scene and the dictation sessions. Beerenbaum's significance for the narrator is revealed in these flashbacks. For her he is the embodiment of the party, its aspirations, crimes, jargon, and its antifascist beginnings. He is also a reincarnation of her dead father, a loyal party member of the same generation with a very similar social background. As a variant of the father-novel of the eighties which deals with the effects of the Nazi past of West German fathers on their sons and daughters, Maron's work attempts to show the crippling and silencing effect of socialist authority figures. Her narrator is no longer touched by the experience of socialism as hope for a better future but experiences it as a dangerous deformation of reality and of her own individual potential, even though she recognizes, admires, and even envies the antifascist resistance elements in the history of many party members.

Beerenbaum and his autobiography not only confront Rosalind with everything she despises in the German Democratic Republic but, what is more devastating, lead her to face her own lack of identity. She blames the ideology of the collective that places development of the politically correct personality above all else. In her relationship with Beerenbaum, in many ways a reenactment of her relationship with her father, the adult narrator Rosalind can finally allow herself to express her pent-up disappointment and anger directly. However, when Beerenbaum's collapse occurs after one such confrontational outburst, she feels that she has moved from merely wishing his death to contributing actively toward it. At this point she recognizes in herself the potential to turn from victim to perpetrator, something she had found particularly disquieting in the biographies of her father and Beerenbaum.

The novel ends with the narrator's refusal to open the autobiographical fragment bequeathed to her. Nevertheless, she knows that even in her attempts to resist she has been formed by the forces Beerenbaum symbolized. It is too late for a new beginning. The only discovery she sees ahead is that of what might have been. Monika Maron thus adds a bitter voice of resignation to the postunification discourse in her intriguing novel.

Peter James (review date 20 November 1992)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 579

SOURCE: James, Peter. “A Privileged Grave.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4677 (20 November 1992): 24.

[In the following review of Stille Zeile Sechs, James commends Maron's scathing honesty but finds shortcomings in the work's narrative contrivances.]

For six months during 1985, at a quiet address in East Berlin known as Stille Zeile Sechs, a twice-weekly encounter takes place between a disillusioned forty-two-year-old ex-historian and a decrepit seventy-eight-year-old ex-functionary. The latter, Herbert Beerenbaum, is writing his memoirs, with the former, Rosalind Polkowski, as his amanuensis. Thus the situation of Monika Maron's novel, the first to be published since she moved to Hamburg from East Germany in 1988. None of her works ever appeared in that now defunct republic, because their treatment of such issues as environmental pollution and the inertia of the bureaucracy made them politically unacceptable. But although the GDR itself may have gone, the memory lingers on, and Maron's fictional return in Stille Zeile Sechs, far from a sentimental journey, is a bitter reckoning.

It was the central paradox of communism that such lofty ideals should have been combined with so repressive a practice. That, at any rate, is the substance of the charges which Rosalind levels against Beerenbaum when his complacent manuscript finally tries her beyond endurance. Beerenbaum is a lifelong communist, the kind who, to quote his favourite phrase, “knew as a young lad that his heart was on the left and his enemy on the right.” Polkowski, by contrast, is the renegade daughter of a communist family, who has just thrown in her job at a historical institute and works for Beerenbaum to while away the time. In a violent tirade she accuses him of strategic blindness towards Stalin's crimes, of cynically betraying a colleague, in short of being part of a system which corroded all the values it claimed to cherish. Beerenbaum's answer is to appeal to his anti-fascist credentials, but, already weak, he cannot withstand the onslaught, and we follow him from privileged residence to privileged hospital to privileged grave.

The plot is somewhat contrived, the structure, consisting of flashbacks at Beerenbaum's funeral, quaintly old-fashioned, and there are none of the surrealist touches familiar from some of Maron's earlier works. This is literature harnessed single-mindedly to an external cause, but that also makes it, by an ironic reversal, very much a product of the state it is repudiating. Under that regime, a work's propagandistic function superseded its aesthetic merits, and the same priority has been allowed to dominate here. What sustains the book, however, is its bubbling anger and the sense it conveys of recent personal involvement. In Maron's case, quite apart from her battles with the cultural apparatus, there is an additional dimension, for she is also the stepdaughter of Karl Maron, formerly head of the East German People's Police, who went on to become, from 1955 to 1963, the GDR's Minister of the Interior. Rosalind Polkowski, seeing in Beerenbaum the embodiment of the Party's rule, is constantly reminded of her own autocratic father and his attempts to impose political orthodoxy upon her. The deformation this caused to her childhood and the psychological scars it left are obvious from the narrative. Equally obvious is the autobiographical underlay. In time, no doubt, more sophisticated treatments of the GDR's legacy will follow, conceivably from Monika Maron herself, but for the present it is no disgrace to have produced a text in which, despite its formal limitations, questions of responsibility are so openly addressed and emotion is recollected with no pretence at tranquillity.

Frauke E. Lenckos (essay date 1993)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5394

SOURCE: Lenckos, Frauke E. “Monika Maron's The Defector: The Newly Born Woman?” Rackham Journal for the Arts and Humanities (1993): 59-70.

[In the following essay, Lenckos draws upon the feminist philosophy of Hélène Cixous to interpret Maron's subversion of binary patriarchal discourse, notions of female essentialism, and the aesthetic tropes of Romanticism in Stille Zeile Sechs.]

In a recent interview, East German writer Monika Maron states the necessity for women from both West and East Germany to devote themselves to a history perceived and experienced by women.1 She refers in particular to her most recent novel Stille Zeile Sechs (Silent Close No. 6, 1991)2 in which a GDR woman named Rosalind Polkowski who regards herself as a victim of Stalinist patriarchy takes her revenge on the fathers. She drives one of its most important representatives, the aging Prof. Herbert Beerenbaum, to a premature death and rewrites his biography. In her earlier work Die Überläuferin (The Defector, 1976)3 whose heroine is also Rosalind Polkowski, Maron argues that it is almost only women who suffer from a socialist dictatorship and its restrictive definition of the human being:

She [Rosalind] considered her inability to subordinate her behavior to her own judgement a shameful defect in her character until she noticed that this type of conduct, common among women, almost never happened to men.


Interestingly, during the course of the novel, it is exactly this lack of control, or chaos in the brain, as Monika Maron calls it, which permits her protagonist to free herself from male state control and create a world of her own female Imaginary which, in its aesthetic essentialism, echoes Hélène Cixous' and Catherine Clément's project in The Newly Born Woman.4

In their article “The Women's Movement and the Construction of a Female Counterpublic”5 Ulla Bock and Barbara Wityes mention the importance of Cixous' female aesthetic for women writers of the former GDR and suggest that a female language which “blurs the levels of reality and fiction” has been developed to a much greater degree in their writings than in that of their West German peers. Maron explains the reasons for this difference in Silent Close No. 6. She suggests that East German women have a deep understanding of the meaning of the French theories of female absence due to the failure of Marxist materialism. She repeats numerous times that this materialism, by defining the realm of the aesthetic as a mere sub-category of the ethical and collapsing the private into the public sphere, dominates GDR discourse in its entirely. In this discourse, which is also exclusively patriarchal, women are at once central as those being written about, and marginalized as those who are not allowed to write.

One of the most striking examples for this kind of exploitation in The Defector is the vampire Heinrich who forbids Martha to write, and asks her to kill herself for the good of the “Association of Poetic Men” (155). More importantly, though, by designating “Heinrich” as a representative of an organization of writers which opposes the state, Maron uncovers the conspiracy between the East German aesthetic sphere and the public domain when it comes to discriminating against women. Women are not only excluded from the master discourse; they are not even admitted to the alternative “free spaces” which it grants to its dissenters.6

Given this male exclusiveness, “the defector” retreats into female essentialism in which she completely concentrates on her own writing. By willing her body into absolute paralysis, she at once adopts the male ideal of physical self-control and expands as well as undermines it in order achieve complete and ceaseless mental mobility. Similarly, she imitates the official state strategy of obscuring the borders between public and private by conjuring up private fantasy and public reality in such a confusing disarray that she puts into question the reality index of the ruling power.7 Ultimately, “the defector” is thus able to re-define both reality and fantasy as constructs of her own so that she can appropriate a “free space” for herself. Into this space, she places her body which, liberated from the discourse of male rationalism and materialism, can give itself up to unrestrained female jouissance.

There are, thus many ways that “the defector” appears as the “newly born woman” whose goal is to self-constitute a female subjectivity which is unstable and which forever transgresses and thereby destroys the patriarchal order of the selfsame. However, Rosalind Polkowski's subversiveness is not only theoretical, nor is it contained in the realm of the aesthetic. Since the actual crossing of the “Wall” from East to West is the absolute taboo, the imaginary defection “through the wall” to the other becomes the ultimate transgression. It finally anticipates Maron's own defection when she moves from East to West Germany in the mid-eighties.8


Rosalind Polkowski's admission of her “hysterical inclinations” (140) goes hand in hand with her appropriation of remembrance—Erinnern—as the vehicle of her narration. To a certain degree, her memories relate to moments in history; she talks about the Second World War (16-19), the building of the Wall (192), and life in the GDR (12). Intertwined with these historical situations are personal accounts, such as the stories of Ida's love and death, the narrator's unhappy childhood, and her friendships with Bruno, Martha and Clairchen. There are also what could be considered references to “actual” times and locations outside of the narration, such as Rosalind's room in which she sits on the third day of her illness when she begins her “journey” and to which she “returns” at the very end. Her trajectory so meticulously follows the precise topography of Berlin-Pankow that The Defector has been called “the novel of a city neighborhood.”

However, a closer look at these “realistic” components reveals their volatility. Rosalind's concept of time is questioned by her own admission that the phone should ring already on the first day (10). Her room, far from being a finite, confined place, is not only marked by doors through which the protagonists of an imaginary theater “slip” and “disappear” (33-40); its walls are also easily physically penetrable and dissolvable. In front of our eyes the room as chamber is transformed into Cixous' opening space (NBW, [The Newly Born Woman] 91) when Rosalind demonstrates how she “goes with her head through the wall” (130). Similarly, the depiction of the historical facts and dates of war, wall and way are distorted and individualized to such a degree that their very meaning as realistic references is put into question. Rather, there appear as orientation points—“Wegpfeiler”—on Rosalind's walk down memory lane (26).

The most important trope of The Defector is that of the “thinking path” (26). Conceiving of time as delimited space—“die Zeit als bemessenen Raum zu betrachten”—Rosalind redefines her space/room as the simultaneity of past, present, and future times, experiences and memories which are accessible to her at any time and which she can “amalgamate” into an orgy of fantastic experiences (13). She is truly the “newly born woman” who upsets the binaries of past/present and inside/outside as she mixes the dimensions of time and space in order to create the preconditions for a journey in time which is also a movement in space. Hers is a truly utopian and fantastic project which upsets the further binary of mind/body as the text insists on a physical trajectory rather than on a spiritual tour de force in the commonplace of “going with your head through the wall” (130).

Within this “chaotic” voyage of the body/mind, the trope of the “way” carries an ordering function. Rosalind depicts the entirety of her thoughts and memories as a “branched out system of main and side streets, alleys and walking paths” which she revisits in the process of remembrance (26). However, she is not satisfied with mere recapturing; she attempts to transgress this system and find ways unmarked on a map, such as “secret paths, hidden ways, underground passages and mountain grates” (26). Her goal is to avoid the continuous repetition of the past (“the well-trodden ways,” 26) and to explore the unknown which Rosalind calls “mysterious” or “secret” (95-96). Ways are therefore only laid out in order to demarcate the borders which are being transgressed.

Behind these borders lie Clément's imaginary zones, ways which are excluded from cultural documentation and therefore, from the Real. In the topography of The Defector, however, they are at once marked as different from—the Imaginary—yet in reference to the Real which they simultaneously undermine (“underground passages”) and supercede (“steep mountain paths”). This doubling is a typical strategy of The Defector and serves to unsettle the binary reality/imaginary. In the same way that everyday streets deviate into secret underground passageways without warning or transition, the fantastic lurks in and hovers over the most “real” locations.

Cixous paraphrases the woman's journey to the unknown as the passage to invention (NBW, 93). Similarly, Rosalind likens “remembering” (erinnern) to inventing (erfinden) when she drops the reflexive pronoun from the verb erinnern and turns the arbitrary reconstruction of memories into a conscious, creative act (43). She also speaks of the possibility of inventing a childhood for Martha and talks about the problem of distinguishing between reality and illusion (52). Although on one hand, Rosalind sounds like the “newly born woman” and celebrates the “wonderful chaos of the brain” (26) she is not blind to the price she has to pay for unleashing the Imaginary; after the particularly intensive episode of the fantasy censor, her body trembles, she feels sick, feverish, and unable to control her fantasy (163). Whereas in relation to her room theater and other fantasies Rosalind seems to be in command, entering and leaving the scene at will, she is at this point stripped of her composure. This is the only moment in her journey when she speaks of herself as “dreaming and fantasizing” and appears confused about her location and her trajectory.

One could also claim, however, that this admission of physical weakness attempts to recapture the feeling of an aftermath following the orgasmic climax of the fantasy she has just had which ended in the Vampire's kiss (= copulation.) In this sense, her momentary confusion serves as proof of the power of the female Imaginary which even overcomes the writing woman's resistance to her own fantasy and makes it “fantastically true” for her (NBW, 6).


The underlying narrative of The Defector is that of the Fall, the split between body and mind. Rosalind tells the story of her “head” losing its childhood harmony with the body as she grows up (115-119). She recounts how once, feelings of joy and mourning were shared by her entire being. At a certain point in time however, her head starts distrusting and colonizing her body, against which the latter rebels with illness and outbursts (118). From this moment, a regular war between the two entities ensues which causes Rosalind to wish for her own doubling.

Her doubling, she knows, allows her to overcome the strongest obstacle of her mind, “shame” and lets her be a “headless body” in the thralls of animalistic passion. Her sexual experiences lead to a brief triumph of the body which even outlasts the physical act, by transforming the mind into a vehicle for the body's further enjoyment as it recalls the moment of erotic abandonment. In this harmony of body and mind, the all-consuming remembrance of lust is transformed into an erotic act itself—the lust of remembering—which Rosalind recuperates in the moments during and after the Vampire's kiss. One could call this a moment of jouissance, especially if one interprets it as a sexual game—as Rosalind, in fact, does—but there is little joy in this lust. Rather, it is the desperate denial of split which is achieved in wild copulation and animalistic reduction (219). Also, the aspect of naissance is seemingly endangered by Rosalind's explicitly stated sterility (16).

The Defector is dominated by the tropes of sterility, death and necrophilia. The novel is peopled with corpses: Rosalind's father, Ida, Clara, and the numerous victims of war and upheaval. Moreover, their bodies are always marked and distorted. The father's corpse is discolored, his posture “crooked … like a slaughtered animal” (21). Of Ida's mouth merely a gaping hole is left, and Clara's body is only found after it has decomposed (24 and 67). The corpses Rosalind sees are also abused and deformed, especially, the one of the young woman whom she finds at the Schönhauser Allee (147). Disfigurement is not only confined to the dead; it also occurs in the living, such as Clara who is obese, and Rosalind whose body is consistently reduced: “the tonsils, the gall bladder, finally even a kidney” (9-10). Their self-mutilation is a reaction to the socio-cultural stigmatization of their corporeality as women whose need for a life of love and excitement the state represses and seeks to sublimate in a life of social duty and usefulness (67). But Clara and Rosalind are true hysterics; they know no sublimation. If they cannot have love, they take death, Rosalind personifies death and offers “him” her body as if in love, whereas Clara finally gives herself up to “him.” What saves Rosalind is that she finds a compromise in which she uses the censuring/censoring of her body to her own advantage.

If culture taught Rosalind the necessity of absolute control of her body, she has completed it in her own way at the beginning of the novel. Willing her body into lameness and sterility, she has finally achieved her passageway out of society and into her own private sphere (10). She kills off her body politic, so to speak, to avoid being part of the socio-economic sphere. The social counterpart of her sterility is what she calls “uselessness,” and she celebrates both as a denial of the expectations put on her as a woman by society and the state. Rosalind does not want to be useful in a real, social sense; she wants to move in the imaginary world of her own. In order to assure its invulnerability, she needs to appear vulnerable in the real world. Her handicap thus appears as a pose, the mask of the hysteric whose demon unleashes itself all the more powerfully because it has been tied down. In this unleashing, the culturally negative terms sterility and nonproductivity take on a positive meaning as they enable the conception of the “newly born woman” in the realm of the Imaginary.


Rosalind is thus fertile because she conceives herself, and is productive because she inscribes what she says in the realm of the Imaginary (NBW, 92). Despite Clara's criticism, though, that she is plagued by a longing to be in harmony with herself, her journey through the Imaginary does not end in self-sameness. It is true that at the conclusion of the book, she returns to her room, and insists that Martha has disappeared and only Rosalind is left (220). However, Rosalind's final fantasy of standing outside in the rain and getting wet is really Martha's “image” of

An unknown feeling of harmony resounded in me, like a wonderful accord, as if I were an instrument, and something in me had brought all my strings so perfectly into motion that not one single sound disturbed the intoxicating harmony of the moment.


As the visions of Rosalind and Martha blend into one, some kind of reconciliation seems to have been achieved. The Romantic subtext which been repeatedly alluded throughout the text resurfaces again in the above passage which bears echoes of the favorite Romantic symbol: the Aeolian Harp which stands for the momentary harmony between nature and culture, poet and creation, conscious and subconscious and the insight into the mystery of divine creation. This moment gives Martha at once greater knowledge and reason to search for its repetition; Rosalind with her longing for paradisiacal unity, and her need to reveal the mystery of life, appears to share Martha's fantasy.

Although Rosalind is amazed to find herself back where she started from, and refuses to examine the usefulness of her fantastic tour de force, she implies that not only she herself but perspective on the whole has changed (as Clément says, women will add a different point of view.) The world of immediate materiality is suspended at the brink of mutability and disappearance, whereas the imaginary is about to re-emerge. The Hegelian return home is thus only a temporary one as the “newly born woman” is about to take off again.

But Romanticism—here the realm of the aesthetic—is not only the solution but also part of the problem in The Defector. The figures of the wandering Jew and non-identic man (125), Rilke's Malte Laurid Brigge (68), Heinrich and/alias Dracula (163) point to the darker, necrophilic side of the Romantics in their preoccupation with the aestheticized and eroticized death of women. Heinrich, by his own confession, became a poet through the madness and fascination he experienced through his mistress' suicide. He appears as a vampire who lives of the blood of women both physically and spiritually and causes them to disappear into a “white shadow” and “black fog” while he manifests himself in re-writing their poetry: a true master écriture (162).

Heinrich is not alone; in fact, he is sent by the “Association of Poetic Men.” This group represents the male aesthetic sphere whose only proclaimed interest is the safeguarding of language. Heinrich charges Martha with abusing this “highest good” and passes the death sentence for her transgression as woman into the realm of poetry. Male poetry, he explains, is like a tower whereas female writing is likened to the elements which erode this edifice: “… of wind, sun rays, and seafoam” (158). Whereas male spirit can be transformed into form, female nature stands unmediated, and in its rawness threatens to destroy the male construct. In his allegory, Heinrich describes in fact the idea of the sorceress “who dreams nature and therefore conceives it,” challenging and circumventing the begetting power of the phallus (NBW, 5). For this act of independence she must be punished with death which cleanses her of the taint of orgasmic power and life itself and serves as the inspiration to male creativity.

Actually, male poetry itself is like a phallus, “a tower” (158), “a sword or a laser beam, splitting, destroying, penetrating” (160). What it penetrates is woman herself. It cuts her off from her own conceiving power and channels her energies into man who comes alive through her giving up of herself (157). It splits her in two, one wanting to be the prescribed norm: mistress and victim, the other the greatest anomaly: the poetess defending her writing. Because of Heinrich's seductive qualities—he is, after all, a creature of death and Satan—she stands no chance of survival as either one. Woman's double exclusion from the realm of the male Real—be it ethical or aesthetic—is complete as Heinrich bends over Martha to give her the final, lethal kiss.

However, Rosalind who has witnessed, and lived through this scene as if she herself were involved, survives the encounter; for, however frightening, “Heinrich” is still a product of her own female Imaginary which she ultimately controls. She does this by using the male strategy of “doubling” woman to her own ends. By reconstructing herself as a schizophrenic who is at once inside and outside of herself, and who simultaneously experiences and analyses herself, she actively initiates and works through the encounter with the other.

Rosalind tells of “an other being inside herself” which, like a demon, possesses her body and colonizes her interior (102). Sometimes she calls it “a strange animal” that lives inside her and revolts against the repressive power of the mind (115). But as “otherness transforms itself into one's own skin,” this demon is ultimately her body itself as it fills itself with passion, love, and life in its ever-revolving, pulsating blood stream (30).

It is interesting that the transmogrification of other into self takes place when Rosalind meets Martha. From this point on, Rosalind projects Martha into the most horrifying and the most elevating of her fantasies. Already in the Vampire episode, Rosalind identifies increasingly with Martha. At first, she says that she feels as if she wrote Martha's poems (157). Although Rosalind is apparently positioned outside a window watching the encounter between Martha and the poet, it seems to her that Heinrich at once stands in between her and Martha and within her: “He stands between us, and it seems to me as if he stands within me” (157).

His double positioning demarcates at once the split between Rosalind and Martha and their possible identity. Indeed, Martha's gesture by which she submits to Heinrich's seduction reflects Rosalind's wish to be kissed again: “Martha bends her head, and I hope he will kiss me again” (158). It seems to imply that Martha, is, in fact, the demon of Rosalind's corporeality projected out of the ordered sphere of her mind into the chaos of the Imaginary. As the vampire sinks his teeth into her neck, he thus drains Rosalind of the essence of her corporeality: he drains her of Martha.

On the other hand, he also frees Martha from Rosalind so that she can take control in the final and crucial fantasy (211-220). Here, the perspective changes momentarily. Whereas in the former fantasies, the “I” always refers to Rosalind, it now means Martha:

I wave to them. Hello, Martha, come here, they are calling … A woman comes up to me … at this moment, I recognize her. Rosalind. I say, Rosalind Polkowski.


She encounters Rosalind as the persona which privileges mind over body: “She is dressed in clean clothes, her hands do not tremble …” (212). Martha herself is ravished by an existence governed by her desires:

my grey, unclean skin, my feverish eyes, the split, scarred lips, the dirty hair, the rotting teeth. …


As the “two” meet in Rosalind's glance which is like a mirror (212) “Martha” suddenly has the realization that she is Rosalind, or even a third person:

Her terror disgusts me although I simultaneously have the impression that I gaze at myself with closed eyes. Or I am Rosalind, or I am a third.


What Rosalind only alluded to, Martha spells out: that she is the one in the many, a subjectivity split apart. Earlier on, Rosalind says that she needs a mirror to see her goal which is herself: “To see a goal, I now need a mirror. I am my goal” (64). Now that she does her own mirroring, she sees Martha who at once is and is not herself. Her goal is thus that of the “newly born woman:” a self which is not self-same (NBW, 90).

Rosalind's goal is Martha, and she has almost reached it. Now she has to get rid of the excess “Rosalind” which keeps her from being Martha. In this process. Martha takes over control and acts as her anima as she guides her through the adaptation process which is also one of dissolution (214). The Auflösung which now slowly pervades her body relates back to Rosalind's accounts of the voiding of the mind/body binary which she experienced in her masochistic remembering (119). What seemed to be the memory of an irrecoverable past, becomes the relivable fantasy of the present: Rosalind re-inscribes herself into the coveted moment of dissolution and indeed reclaims the body which had been alienated from her by “spreading herself full of lust in the dust of the street,” “by spreading her legs and pissing in the middle of the walkway … while screaming like a female monkey” and copulating “like cattle” with a dirty and sweating transient (213). Through self-forgetting and self-abasement, re-incarnating at once Cixous' sorceress who spreads her bodily fluids freely and copulates without reserve and Clément's hysteric who transforms her body into a scenario of forgotten scenes, Rosalind ultimately moves from self-disdain to pleasing herself, finding a passage way for her jouissance. Her statement “I disgust myself, this is way I like myself” (219) demonstrates the agreement between mind and body as it finds pleasure in disgust. Finally, she has reached her goal: “I have ceased to exist, I have nothing to fear” (219).

One could claim that Martha and Rosalind have switched fantasies. When the former who is actually located in the depths of the ghetto, explains her lack of fear, she tells of an almost mystical encounter with nature whereas the latter, who describes herself as a child mystic, has to undergo the worst social humiliation in order to find dissolution and fearlessness. The exchangeability of fantasies seems to grant not only an ultimate understanding—Rosalind until this point claims she fails to understand Martha and thereby frightens her away—but also a common ground which establishes a shared female Imaginary similar to the one which Cixous describes.

Up to this point, Rosalind, together with the other women in her narrative, appear as lonely, disconnected and misunderstood. Although they feel a certain solidarity for each other, they are unable to help each other; Rosalind can neither prevent Clara's suicide nor Martha's disappearance. In fact, Rosalind repeatedly mentions her lack of understanding for either woman, and her feeling that both lie, contradict themselves, and behave in “abnormal” ways. On one hand, their behavior rebukes Rosalind; on the other, she is fascinated by their freedom and even imitates their subversiveness to a certain degree. However, she also perceives Clara and Martha as victims of society since neither is able to perform according to its demands because of their excessive passion and sensitivity. Rosalind, on the other hand, portrays herself as one who has fit in to a certain degree and who has adapted herself, however desperately, to the social demands placed upon her. It is only by disposing of her former ego and by slipping into Martha's and Clara's individualities that she is able to relive their shared experiences and gain an understanding of their motivation. Only when Rosalind has undergone their sufferings, can she truly adopt the character traits that so fascinated her in Clara and in Martha.

But the process of re-invigoration works both ways. It is ultimately in Rosalind's imagination that both Clara's and Martha's dearest fantasies come true; Clara appears as the beautiful, admired ballet dancer she always wanted to be despite her obesity, and Martha can experience the beauty of nature in the terrible ghettos of the U.S. In turn, Rosalind relives their humiliation, helplessness, and rape almost to the death, combined with consistent thoughts of self-doubt, self-hatred, and suicide. It is in this exchange of fantasies of happiness and hurt that the shared female Imaginary manifests itself as the basis for a re-writing of history as perceived by women.

Even in the beginning stages of their friendship when misunderstandings otherwise abound, Rosalind, Martha, and Clara have one common ground: they are haunted by the images of pain and death dealt out by men, inflicted upon women. Rosalind not only time and again relives the mass murders of the Second World War and the brutalities connected with the East German State's quenching of the 1957 Revolution and the shootings at the “Berlin Wall”; she also commiserates in the small tragedies, such as the Ida's near insanity when her Aryan lover leaves her during the Third Reich. In addition, Rosalind re-reads literature with the oppressed woman in mind; if, for example, conventional biographies stress Heinrich Kleist's tragic fate which drove him to suicide, she directs the attention to his wife whom he shot first. Like “Shakespeare's sister,” she becomes the new heroine of a literary history conceived by women.

Even more importantly, though, by identifying herself and other contemporary women writers with this tragic figure, the “defector” turns a mere literary reading into a political statement as she uncovers the rhetoric of a discourse which, while celebrating the progress of women as its greatest achievement, deprives them of their medium of expression. For if women exist in a raw, unmediated state, it is because men dominate the official domain of mediation to the exclusion of women. This is why women are forced to delve into their subconscious and test their resourcefulness in the only area where men cannot follow them: the fantasies and memories that they share with each other. In this sense, The Defector demonstrates its subversiveness as an aesthetic as well as a political text when Rosalind reacts to the strategy of social appropriation with her tactics of feminine de-appropriation. In her fantasy, she creates a world in which nobody owns himself or herself, and self-sameness has become an impossibility—as Rosalind herself says: “I do not own myself” (65).

However, in contrast to Cixous, Maron realizes that this ideal realm of the Doppelgänger—Martha and Clara—can also deteriorate into a horror science fiction of clones and cyborgs. For Rosalind not only encounters her soul mate mirror image, she also meets the clone who has her identical facial features. Her fantasy in fact invents an utopia where the entire world is the reflection of a research laboratory in which every “human” has its copy. This copy is mentally and physically superior to its original because it uses its body as a mere tool for cognizance and is ever ready to take over for the original at any time. In this vision, the world has lost its mystery; it is mere copy, a plagiarism of itself, the hierarchy of originality disposed of in favor of the prototype (208). This is, quite plainly, the world of Socialist utopia propagating a Darwinism which defines original genius and true immortality as endlessly reproducible, a mere outcome of the perfection of science. Against this exterior verisimilitude of progress, the “defector” establishes her own atavistic pose in which the regressive activities of both her mind and her body—she finally behaves like an ape—unify in an act of defiance.

However, Rosalind also cleverly uses this fantastic confusion of copy/original to circumvent and outwit the censor who, in the form of “Robert Redford” or “Heinrich” consistently threatens her with censoring/censuring body as “copy” and privileging mind as the original form. The “defector” undercuts her own Romantic subtext which favors such a prioritizing, and instead, creates such a fantastic disarray of bodies and minds and transgressions of dimensions both spiritual and physical that any tracing back of the source is impossible. All that remains is the obscurity of the origin and the uncertainty of the end over which the allusion to a promise hovers like an opaque shadow, a rain cloud which might point to a journey about to start anew: “to get wet in the rain, yes, that would be nice” (221). If such an end is not quite in accord with the radical essentialism of Cixous and Clément, it is not for the lack of trying on the part of Maron but rather, because of the counter-essentialism of Socialism which, at the time that The Defector was written, made a belief in the possibility of diversity a questionable occupation. It could also be argued that it is part of Monika Maron's much famed honesty that she admits partial defeat while demonstrating that she has not given up the struggle for women.


  1. “Vershüttete Kultur—Ein Gespräch mit Monika Maron,” Gerhard Richter, DGR Bulletin 18:1 (Spring, 1992), p. 3

  2. Monika Maron, Stille Zeile Sechs. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Verlag, 1991

  3. Monika Maron, Die Überläuferin, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Verlag, 1988. All page numbers are taken from this edition. The translations are mine.

  4. Helene Cixous and Catherine Clément, The Newly Born Woman, tr. Betsy Wing, University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 1988. All page numbers are taken from this edition. The book is abbreviated as (NBW) in the text.

  5. Edith H. Altbach, ed., German Feminism: Readings in Politics and Literature, State University of New York: Albany, 1984, p. 50-66.

  6. The absence of women even from alternative discourse in the GDR was and is stilly passionately discussed. See also Vogel order Käfig sein: Kunst und Literatur aus unabhängigen Zeitschriften in der DDR 1979-1989 (ed. Klaus Michael and Thomas Wohlfahrt), Galrev: Berlin, 1992, p. 402-404.

  7. Cixous and Clément point to the questioning of the Freudian reality index as one of the major challenges the hysteric poses to the system.

  8. Monika Maron's own biography is actually also very interesting in this respect: as daughter of the devoted Stalinist and Minister of the Interior Karl Maron, she lived a rather privileged life prior to her career as a writer.

Nancy Derr (review date fall 1993)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 291

SOURCE: Derr, Nancy. Review of Silent Close No. 6, by Monika Maron. Belles Lettres 9, no. 1 (fall 1993): 58.

[In the following review, Derr offers a positive assessment of Stille Zeile Sechs.]

Envying the freedom of the stray cat on her street and thoroughly repulsed by having to “think in return for money,” Rosalind Polkowski has finally quit her job at the Barabas research institute, where she has been tediously researching the development of proletarian movements. Alienation, despair, and futility form the core of Polkowski's life, at least until she meets her antithesis: none other than Professor Herbert Beerenbaum. When this well-known brilliant rhetorician and Stalinist invites Polkowski to his home at Silent Close No. 6 [Stille Zeile Sechs] to write his memoirs, the scene is set for a psychological and emotional tug-of-war that only death can end.

In this prize-winning look at life in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), novelist Monika Maron depicts the dichotomy of life there. In Rosalind Polkowski, Maron has created a vehicle for seeing and feeling what Maron believes was the essence of daily life in this former Communist country. Using flashbacks, Maron has Polkowski relive parts of her past as she navigates the alienation of the present. Her relationship with Beerenbaum, who represents everything in society that Polkowski has rejected, is the ultimate contradiction. Polkowski ultimately is unable to extricate herself completely from his power.

Conflict has played a key role in Maron's own life. Born to a Communist family in 1941 in Nazis Berlin, Maron joined the Party in 1965 only to resign later. Her first novels, Flight of Ashes and The Defector, were both banned in the East. Maron finally fled to West Germany in 1987. This, her third novel, has finally won her the prestigious Heinrich von Kleist Prize.

Erlis Glass (review date autumn 1993)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 275

SOURCE: Glass, Erlis. Review of Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft, by Monika Maron. World Literature Today 67, no. 4 (autumn 1993): 822-23.

[In the following review, Glass compliments the essays in Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft, noting the collection's “honesty and passion.”]

Monika Maron is a well-established contemporary author of novels and short stories. Her most recent novel, Stille Zeile Sechs, appeared in 1991. The twenty articles in Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft include her own autobiographical comments, “Ich war ein antifaschistisches Kind”; commentary on the reunification of the Germanies, on writers' quarrels, and on Ernst Toller; a review of Judith Kuckart's novel Wahl der Waffen; and a lovely essay on the process of writing itself, “Schreiben auf dem Lande.” Some readers may find the essays written during the early days of reunification of less interest than later pieces. Insights seem faded now, and their impact lessened by frequent repetition; but it is interesting to observe how the author's perspective changes over time.

The most compelling essays are the last four. One is on the subject of abortion rights, “Letzter Zugriff auf die Frau,” an original and fascinatingly argued piece. “Fettauge auf der Brühe” contains Maron's opinion of the lionization by Western media of such GDR writers as Hermann Kant. “Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft” is a moving, personal reading of Heinrich von Kleist on the occasion of Maron's receipt of the Kleist Prize. Finally, she offers her latest word on reunification, “Zonophobie.” It is not only the excellent style of Maron's essays which highly recommends this collection, but also the honesty and passion with which she presents her thoughts. Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft merits wide readership.

Brigitte Rossbacher (essay date 1994)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4812

SOURCE: Rossbacher, Brigitte. “(Re)visions of the Past: Memory and Historiography in Monika Maron's Stille Zeile Sechs.Colloquia Germanica 27, no. 1 (1994): 13-24.

[In the following essay, Rossbacher examines Maron's critique and subversion of official GDR history in Stille Zeile Sechs, contending that, by incorporating aspects of personal and collective memory in the novel, Maron reveals the problematic legacy of fascism and communism that is suppressed by uncritical, monumentalized versions of GDR history.]

Gewiβ, wir brauchen Historie, aber wir brauchen sie anders, als sie der verwöhnte Müβiggänger im Garten des Wissens braucht, mag derselbe auch vornehm auf unsere derben und anmutlosen Bedürfnisse und Nöte herabsehen. Das heiβt, wir brauchen sie zum Leben und der Tat, nicht zur bequemen Abkehr vom Leben und von der Tat, oder gar zur Beschönigung des selbstsüchtigen Lebens und der feigen und schlechten Tat.1

Friedrich Nietzsche

History, Walter Benjamin claimed, is written by the victors. To be sure, literary critics of the victorious West did not hesitate to redefine what was and what remains of the GDR and its literature. As Ulrich Greiner emphasized in his «Zwischenbilanz» to the debate sparked by Christa Wolf's Was bleibt: «Es geht um die Deutung der literarischen Vergangenheit und um die Durchsetzung einer Lesart. … Wer bestimmt, was gewesen ist, der bestimmt auch, was sein wird. Der Streit um die Vergangenheit ist ein Streit um die Zukunft.»2 The inflationary use of terms such as «Staatsdichter/in,» «Stasi» and «Stalinismus» to describe 40 years of GDR history reveals attempts to create a unitary and definitive picture of that country's historical and literary past «as it actually was.» Couching their critiques in binary oppositions of innocence or guilt, victim or perpetrator, resistance fighter or coward, of activity or passivity, of public or private, of «Kunst» or «Gesinnung,» Western critics such as Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Ulrich Greiner and Frank Schirrmacher have sought to muffle, if not completely silence, voices struggling both to come to terms with and articulate a past not reducible to singular definitions.3

Monika Maron's novel Stille Zeile Sechs, begun before the GDR's collapse and published in 1991, can be read as inserting itself into and subverting this dominant discourse. In his speech honoring Maron with the 1992 Kleist-Preis for Stille Zeile Sechs, Reich-Ranicki refers to the GDR represented in Maron's text simply as a «Land der Lüge»—«Die DDR—sie sollte ein Land des Lächelns sein, aber sie war ein Land der Lüge»—thus continuing the binary and reductionist interpretation of the past which characterized the so-called «deutsch-deutscher Literaturstreit.»4 Yet ironically or perhaps symptomatically, it is precisely such a facile reduction of the past which Maron's novel itself thematizes and problematizes, countering a monumental and unified representation of the GDR past with a critical re-vision thereof.

Like Benjamin's theses «Über den Begriff der Geschichte,» Maron's Stille Zeile Sechs juxtaposes two modes of historiography: historicism, which represents history as a series of immutable facts, focuses on great men and their noble deeds and thereby promotes a master narrative of the victors, and what Benjamin terms historical materialism, a mode of historical representation which focuses not on the victors, but rather on the those silenced by the relentless flow of history.5 Whereas Benjamin directs his critique specifically at 19th century historicism and its reflection in the fascist monumentalizing of the past, Maron focuses on the monumentalization of collective history in the GDR, laying bare the barbarism entwined with yet concealed by the GDR's official history. As Benjamin notes, «Es [das Kulturgut] ist niemals ein Doku ment der Kultur, ohne zugleich ein solches der Barbarei zu sein.»6 Interweaving personal and collective memory, combining critical history with monumental History, Stille Zeile Sechs succeeds in brushing the dominant historical discourse against the grain to reveal the gray areas hidden beneath its black and white exterior.

Maron emphasized the highly autobiographical nature of Stille Zeile Sechs in a 1991 interview, stating that in this text she wanted to tell her story, «meine Geschichte,» and examine what she describes as her «Bindung durch Haβ» to the GDR.7 In her 1990 essay «Ich war ein antifaschistisches Kind,» she embeds her personal history in collective history and raises questions of memory and historical representation central to Stille Zeile Sechs.8 Reflecting on her childhood in the 1950s, a childhood in which all those close to her, all those she loved, were antifascists and communists, Maron expresses the conviction she held at age ten when she moved with her mother from the Federal Republic to the GDR: «Ich wohnte auf der Seite der Wahrheit und der historischen Sieger. Ich war zehn Jahre alt, und das Wort Kommunist war für mich ein Synonym für guter Mensch.»9 With this early equation of communism with all that was lovable, good, true, and right, Maron questions how now to remember and represent that past, acknowledging the difficulty of positioning herself as an innocent child given her present knowledge of Stalinism's legacy. She recalls Martin Walser's statement that in order to represent his childhood (Walser was born 1927), he would have to transform himself into the antifascist child who he was not. Maron (born 1941), however, proclaims: «Ich war ein antifaschistisches Kind,» and, turning the tables, asks, «Müβte ich mich, um von meinen Erinnerungen der fünfziger Jahre zu erzählen, in ein antikommunistisches Kind verwandeln?»10 Through this juxtaposition, one which aligns Nazism (Walser's childhood) and Stalinism (Maron's childhood), Maron makes clear the irreconcilability of the ideological indoctrination of her youth with concrete historical realities. She explains:

Als ich eine kommunistische Zukunft für so natürlich und wünschenswert hielt wie den täglichen Sonnenaufgang, sperrten Kommunisten ihre sozialdemokratischen Genossen, mit denen sie gemeinsam in Hitlers Konzentrationslagern gesessen hatten, in die eigenen Zuchthäuser; verboten sie Kunstwerke als dekadent, die von den Nazis als entartet verfemt worden waren; verweigerten sie Christen die höheren Schulen; verurteilten sie Menschen für einen politischen Witz zu jahrelangem Gefängnis; organisierten sie ein landesweites Spitzelnetz. Auf unbegreifliche Weise ahmten sie ihre Peiniger nach, bis in die Fackelzüge und Uniformen.11

Maron draws out similarities in how Stalinism and Nazism functioned through repression, ritualization, ideology and psychological techniques without equating the two dictatorships, an equation which, as the Historikerstreit and present popular discourse has shown, runs the risk of relativizing Nazi atrocities and erasing the particularities of both systems. Moreover, Maron attempts to understand how those communist antifascists victimized in Hitler's Germany could become the perpetrators of present crimes, dismantling the rigid dichotomization of victims and perpetrators. As Hermann Weber emphasizes: «Die Politik Stalins führte … zu einer doppelten Tragödie deutscher Kommunisten: Zehntausende von ihnen haben die Nazis ermordet. Aber von denjenigen, die vor Hitler in die Sowjetunion flüchteten, gerieten Tausende dort in die blutigen Stalinschen Säuberungen. Über 60٪ der Politemigranten kamen in der UdSSR ums Leben.»12 Such «white spots» of GDR historiography as the tragic irony that the number of German communists murdered under Stalin exceeded the number murdered under Hitler form the basis of Maron's re-vision of the past in Stille Zeile Sechs.13

In her novel, Maron adds to questions about Auschwitz and Buchenwald posed by the postwar generation in the Federal Republic questions about the Gulag Archipelago, the Hotel Lux and Bauzten, signalling the GDR postwar generation's rebellion against its fathers' lack of Erinnerungsarbeit, of a critical and personal engagement with the past.14 Maron's novel foregrounds the clash between two experiences of the past and their representations, the conflict between a daughter, the text's first-person narrator Rosalind Polkowski, and her (deceased) father enacted with a representative figure of the father's generation, Professor Herbert Beerenbaum. Framed by Beerenbaum's death, the narrative reflects Rosalind's process of remembering the past, working through and taking leave from not only what Beerenbaum represents on the political level (the crimes of the state), but also on the personal level, namely coming to terms with a cold and distant father who never broke through his official facade, who lived in clichés and left his daughter's love unreciprocated. Accordingly, Rosalind states: «Ich verabschiedete Beerenbaum nicht einfach aus dem Leben, ich verabschiedete ihn aus meinem Leben, in dem er, lange bevor wir uns begegnet waren, Platz genommen hatte, als wäre es sein eigenes» (55).

Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich underscore the importance of the process of leave-taking, of Trauerarbeit, in their famous study of postwar German society, Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern.15 Drawing on Freud's psychoanalytic formula of «erinnern, wiederholen, durcharbeiten,» the Mitscherlichs stress the necessity of coming to terms with the past through Erinnerungsarbeit and Trauerarbeit, which they define as a process of leave-taking and a prerequisite for the emergence of new thoughts and an openness to a different future. Although they focus on the lack of Vergangenheits-bewältigung in West German society, their analysis also holds for the East, where critical examination of fascism was a tabu—though one which began to be broached by GDR literature in the 1970s—and the concept of GDR socialism as «Stalinist» only entered the public discourse in the late 1980s.16 Rapidly identified with the victors (the communist Soviet Union), and founded explicitly as an «antifascist» state, the GDR—ideologically and rhetorically—made a clean break with the Nazi past it shared with the West. The designation of the capitalist Federal Republic as the rightful heir to National Socialism and the emphasis on the antifascist stances of the country's founders, that is the victimization of communists by fascists, functioned to elide the specificities of Hitler's Germany, of anti-semitism and the Holocaust. Mythologized in official history through notions of the «Stunde Null» and «Sieger der Geschichte,» the GDR's prescribed antifascism thus precluded personal and subjective engagement with the past.

In Stille Zeile Sechs, Maron casts Beerenbaum as a typical figure whose biography meshes with that of such political personages as Walter Ulbricht, Wilhelm Pieck and her own stepfather, Karl Maron: children of the proletariat, Volksschulabschluβ, early membership in the communist party, emigration, Hotel Lux, Gruppe Ulbricht, high party functionaries.17 Given the task to write his memoirs, Beerenbaum reconstructs his story as a history of the victors: it conforms to a set mold in which personal and political history meld into one. Emphasis on his early sense of justice and infallible «Klasseninstinkt» (58) and statements such as «Schon als kleiner Knirps wuβte ich, daβ das Herz links saβ und der Klassenfeind rechts stand» (59-60) encapsulate Beerenbaum's revisionism. He represents his return from Soviet exile from the perspective of the (communist) victors, focusing not on the German people but on German imperialism as the instigator of war: «Heim ins befreite Deutschland. Befreit durch die Sowjetarmee. … In dieser Stunde wuβten wir: Es würde unser Deutschland werden, auf ewig befreit von kriegslüsternen Imperialisten und mordgierigen Faschisten» (200). Echoing the inculcated sense of morality of those communists faced with reeducating the masses and rebuilding out of ruins a communist state on German soil, Beerenbaum dictates: «Es was erschreckend, wie es ideologisch in den Köpfen der Menschen aussah. Noch immer standen sie den Mördern näher als den Opfern. Bis tief in die Arbeiterklasse hinein hatte die antisowjetische Hetze ihr Werk getan. Diese Menschen zu erziehen war eine gigantische Aufgabe» (202). Opposing diametrically the fascist «murderers» and the communist «victims,» Beerenbaum, like Rosalind's father, uses his own victimization to justify sacrifices for an idea, hiding behind a glorified past and legitimizing his actions with what the narrator terms a complete «Radschwung der Geschichte» (154).

Untouched by societal contradictions or self-scrutiny, Beerenbaum's memories consist of what Christa Wolf terms «Medaillons,» one-dimensional, encapsulated and ossified pieces of life fit with captions such as «Ende der Kindheit» and neatly classified as «schön oder häβlich, gut oder böse.»18 Wolf stresses that prose should work against the unavoidable process of «Verhärtung, Versteinerung, Gewöhnung,» against the deceptive process of polishing, rethinking and reinterpreting «miniatures» in order to place oneself in the right light.19 Like memory, it should swim against the strong current of forgetting.20 Yet Beerenbaum's memoirs contain no mention of the «white spots» of his story/History, no mention of the Stalinist purges which terrorized the Hotel Lux where he resided during emigration.

The task of transcribing Beerenbaum's memoirs falls into the hands of the historian Rosalind Polkowski, the first-person narrator of Stille Zeile Sechs. For fifteen years Rosalind was employed as a GDR historian, a position in which she constructed GDR History by pouring selected facts into a prefabricated mold. Her research into the development of the proletarian movement in Sachsen and Thüringen required no subjective engagement: the field was predetermined and its historical significance not open to multiple interpretations. «Nicht mir wurde das Sachgebiet zugeteilt, sondern ich dem Sachgebiet … Stürbe ich, würde es das Sachgebiet immer noch geben» (22), she remarks in recognition of her interchangeability and lastly of the apparent meaninglessness of her labor. «Nichts an meinem Leben erschien mir noch vernünftig» (23), she concedes. Yet she ultimately rebels against her instrumentalization, quits her position and vows never again to think, to employ her mind, for money.21

Rosalind encounters Beerenbaum in a café and, despite her vow, agrees to transcribe his memoirs, intending to sever her thinking self from the writing process and simply to replace Beerenbaum's lame right hand with hers. Yet her confrontation with Beerenbaum's uncritical, hagiographic representation of his story/GDR History renders her incapable of recording his story from a disembodied and disinterested perspective. She cannot separate his life from hers, a life she sees as formed, deformed and coopted by Beerenbaum's generation: «Alles gehört ihnen … Auch ich gehörte ihnen … » (118), she reveals. Although wishing to regard Beerenbaum with the objective and nonjudgmental distance of a natural scientist observing a lion devour its prey, she is incapable of positioning herself as a passive observer outside of his story. She contends: «Wäre es mir gelungen, Beerenbaum mit dem Blick eines Naturfoschers zu betrachten, … hätte ich mich unter keinen Umständen als sein Opfer fühlen können … Der Naturforscher haβt den Löwen nicht, ich haβte Beerenbaum» (122). «Hate», «disgust» and «fear» describe the narrator's relationship to Beerenbaum and what he represents (123): «Er ist das, was ich hasse, aber was hasse ich so» (134), she asks.22

In contrast to the teleological representation of Beerenbaum's life, the structure of the narrator's memories represented in Stille Zeile Sechs is nonlinear and relational. In seeking to explain to herself her expressed hatred of Beerenbaum and his generation, Rosalind recollects her childhood marked by her failed attempts to win her father's approval and love: «Man haβt, wenn man unterlegen war. Oder wenn man geliebt hat und nicht wiedergeliebt wurde» (182). This childhood is captured in the memory of a ten-year-old daughter who, hoping to please her father, prepares an enormous bowl of his favorite dessert, lemon creme; yet without acknowledgement or thanks, the father devours the lemon creme and sends the daughter to bed early. Such experiences lead Rosalind to define a communist as «jemand, der sich bei einem Kind, das ihm gerade eine groβe Schüssel Zitronencreme schenkt, nicht bedankt, weil er gerade mit der Weltrevolution beschäftigt ist» (160). She cannot disentangle her father's communist beliefs from his actions, explaining: «Wenn ein Zitronencremefresser Kommunist ist, bleibt für das Kind, bei dem er sich nicht bedankt, beides ewig miteinander verbunden» (161). Linking her personal experience to historical reality, she adds: «Und wer auf einen kommunistischen Mörder trifft, weiβ für immer, daβ der Kommunismus auch mörderisch ist» (161). In her view, communism can be no better than individual communists, no better than Herbert Beerenbaum or her father, Fritz Polkowski (161).

Whereas Beerenbaum grounds his world view on communist dogma, Rosalind bases hers on personal experience: «Ich hätte beschlossen, mein Weltbild nur noch auf Erfahrung zu gründen, weil es mir so im Alter nicht zusammenbrechen könne» (161). Beerenbaum defines a communist objectively as «jemand, der für den Kommunismus kämpft»; the narrator, however, cannot separate communism from her personal experiences with «communists,» in particular her father. Although Beerenbaum derides Rosalind's position for being exceedingly individualistic, subjective and «unscientific», the grounding of her narrative in «experience» draws attention to the social construction of the self. As Teresa de Lauretis asserts: «Experience is the process by which, for all social beings, subjectivity is constructed. Through that process one places oneself or is placed in social reality and so perceives and comprehends as subjective (referring to, even originating in oneself) those relations—material, economic, and interpersonal—which are in fact social, and, in a larger perspective, historical.»23 Accentuating the embeddedness of «experience» within social and historical reality, de Lauretis' definition underscores the validity of this position for the production of historical knowledge.

Rosalind's experience and its representation in Stille Zeile Sechs must also be read as gendered, as shaped by a patriarchal power structure with an inexorable grip on all aspects of her life, public and private: «Überall auf der Straβe liegt etwas herum, das Macht heiβt. In den Buddelkästen, Kneipen, Büros, Straβenbahnen, in den Betten, überall liegt es» (135), she exclaims. Dominated and chided by an unloving father, patronized by Barabas at the historical institute, infantilized by her former lover Bruno, Rosalind's experiences unmask her subordination in a gender-specific power hierarchy. Even in the pub, the novel's subculture described as a «Gegenwelt, ein Orkus, wo andere Gesetze galten» and Beerenbaum's power ends (172-73), the gender hierarchy of the outside world remains firmly intact: «Die Kneipe sei nicht nur der letzte Hort männlicher Freiheit, … die Kneipe sei der Hort der Freiheit schlechthin, weil es eine weibliche Freiheit auβerhalb der Grammatik nicht gab … » (171-72), Bruno contends. In the pub, Rosa remains marginalized, the audience for the males' «Lebensexperiment» (77). Beerenbaum too discredits Rosalind's gendered perception of reality, her aversion to «Gespräche, in denen sich Männer gegenseitig von ihrer Bedeutung überzeugen wollen» as sentiments of a «Männerfeindin» (148), a further example of his binary thinking. While Beerenbaum endearingly calls Rosalind «unsere Rosa» (146) in reference to Rosa Luxemburg, this reference also underscores the hegemonic power structure at play in the text given the GDR regime's cooptation of Luxemburg, whose declarations «Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden» and «Der einzige Weg zur Wiedergeburt ist breiteste Demokratie» became protest slogans for the GDR's opposition.24

Seeking to (re)gain an identity she sees as coopted by the patriarchal status quo, Rosalind attempts in her confrontations with Beerenbaum to win a previously lost battle, a battle both for love as well as for social and political power. Her critical historiography attempts a radical re-vision of the past to make possible an alternate present and future. As Nietzsche maintains in regards to critical historiography, «nur der, dem eine gegenwärtige Not die Brust beklemmt, und der um jeden Preis die Last von sich abwerfen will, hat ein Bedürfnis zur kritischen, das heiβt richtenden und verurteilenden Historie.»25 Questions suppressed and silenced in Rosalind's childhood she now relentlessly poses Beerenbaum. In a central passage of the text, Rosalind accuses Beerenbaum of a lack of Erinnerungsarbeit and confronts him with the hypocrisy of espousing unwavering belief in communism faced with the heinous reality of Siberia and the Hotel Lux. Beerenbaum responds: «Man hat nichts gewuβt. … Wir haben gegen Hitler gekämpft» (138). Yet while alleging a lack of knowledge (which echoes claims regarding the Holocaust), on this particular day Beerenbaum's ritualized responses give way under further questioning to a psychosomatic reaction, a serious nosebleed which finally leads Rosalind to halt her interrogation. When she next returns to continue their work, Beerenbaum takes the offensive and confronts her. The first sentence he dictates reads: «Meine Frau Grete wurde im Herbst 39 verhaftet … Sie kam in das Konzentrationslager Ravensbrück» (141). Enraged by Rosalind's accusations, thus categorically rejecting any analogy between fascist and Stalinist crimes, Beerenbaum indignantly screams at her: «Und das liegt nicht bei Sibirien» (141). The narrator's critical historiography becomes clear in her revision, as she records: «Grete wurde im Herbst 39 verhaftet. Sie kam in das Konzentrationslager Ravensbrück. Sibirien liegt bei Ravensbrück» (142). In positioning Siberia near Ravensbrück, Rosalind aligns the insidiousness of Stalinism and fascism and, through her revision, writes this alignment into his story and into history.

In her story, Stille Zeile Sechs, Rosalind represents not only the dominant culture (Beerenbaum's story) but writes into history those «ex-centrics» of the subculture excluded from History.26 An «Asyl für domestizierte Abenteuer» (73), the pub represents a realm in which the ideals of the outside world are subverted: it is class society where individuality and education are paramount, where the «Lateiner» rule over the «Nicht-Lateiner» and inebriated pub personalities engage in philosophical debates on the meaning of freedom.27 Yet the outside world has left its mark on the subculture's inhabitants: Rosalind learns that in 1962 Beerenbaum denounced the «Graf» Karl-Heinz Baron, one of the pub's dominant figures, as a «reaktionäres, den hohen Zielen der neuen Ordnung feindlich gesonnenes Subjekt» (181) for forwarding a dissertation manuscript to a colleague who had fled to the West, an action which resulted in a three-year prison term. In representing the Graf's plight, Rosalind undertakes a further revision of History.

Seeking revenge for the Graf and for herself, the narrator lashes out at Beerenbaum, verbally and physically confronting the past and acting against it. She puts Beerenbaum on trial, accusing him (and the GDR regime) of incarcerating intellectuals whom he did not understand and therefore feared. Weakened, «atemlos vor Schmerz oder Wut» (207), Beerenbaum attempts to defend himself: «Unsere Universität war der Klassenkampf. Unser Latein waren Marx und Lenin. Vorwärts und nicht vergessen. Ihr habt vergessen» (207), he murmurs before his collapse. In remembering this final confrontation, the narrative voice fragments into three28: «Ich weiβ es so genau, als hätte ich diese Minuten zweifach erlebt, als Zuschauerin und als Akteurin. Und eigentlich war ich sogar dreifach dabei, denn auch als Akteurin war ich geteilt, in eine, die etwas tat, und eine andere, die etwas zu tun wünschte» (204-05). Figured as a passive observer, the narrator splits herself off from Rosalind and, accordingly, continues her representation in the third person, a narrative device which distances her from Rosalind's actions—and Rosalind's imagined actions. It is «Rosalind» who ruthlessly interrogates Beerenbaum and sits as the «Rachegöttin hinter der Schreibmaschine» (205); it is «Rosalind» who relentlessly assails Beerenbaum and graphically visualizes his death: «Das Schlimmste sah ich in ihren [Rosalinds] Augen, wo sich spiegelte, was sie nicht tat … [Rosalinds] Faust traf sein Gesicht. Das Gebiβ fiel ihm aus dem Mund. Sie schlug ihn wieder … Sie trat ihn gegen die Rippen, den Kopf, in die Hoden, beidbeinig sprang sie auf seinen Brustkorb» (207-08). The narrator's appalling recognition of Rosalind's thirst for bloody revenge renders her incapable of representing this event without casting herself as distinct from Rosalind: «Rosalind sah die ihr entgegengestreckte Hand, sah den sterbenden Beerenbaum und wartete auf seinen Tod. Als ich endlich verstand, daβ sie [Rosalind] nichts tun würde, ihn zu retten, fand ich meine Stimme wieder» (209). While the first-person narrator depends on her additional regained voice to represent her memories, her multiple voices create an overwhelming prism of recollections in which each angle sheds light on the other: «Ich weiβ alles, nichts ist mir entgangen. Das macht das Erinnern so schwer» (205), she reveals.

These conflicting voices, voices torn between passivity, activity, and engagement, between feelings of compassion, attempts at reconciliation and violent anger, frame the narrative «I» as both victimized and implicated. Can her passivity not also be read as complicity? Is she really no more guilty than the typewriter on which she records Beerenbaum's memoirs? Is she not, like Beerenbaum, driven to act, finally to be the victor, not the victim? «Alles, nur nicht Opfer sein» (212), she states of Beerenbaum—and of herself, acknowledging the similar motivations underlying both of their actions. Rosalind recognizes that she too is not without «sin»: in the novel's closing frame, she invokes the biblical passage (John 8, 7), «Wer unter euch ohne Sünde ist, der werfe den ersten Stein auf sie» (215). Recognizing her own complicity and guilt, she comes to feel compassion for Beerenbaum (151) and for her deceased father (169) and ultimately affirms the question posed by Ernst Toller which she cites repeatedly in the text: «Muβ der Handelnde schuldig werden, immer und immer? Oder, wenn er nicht schuldig werden will, untergehen?» (41) With Toller's question, she further blurs the oppositions of activity and passivity, of perpetrators and victims at play in the text. For Rosalind, Beerenbaum's story will not remain a closed chapter, a «miniature» fitted with a singular caption.

In honoring Maron with the Kleist-Preis for Stille Zeile Sechs, Reich-Ranicki continued the one-sided, ideologically-driven rhetoric of the «deutsch-deutscher Literaturstreit.» In addition to matter-of-factly describing the GDR represented in Maron's text as a «Land der Lüge,» he superficially characterized the novel's protagonist as simply a «Rachegöttin hinter der Schreibmaschine.»29 Deaf to the multiple voices and displacements in the text, he facilely reduces Maron's highly personal and differentiated rendering of the past. «Gewiβ brauchen wir Historie, aber wir brauchen sie anders»: in the case of Monika Maron's Stille Zeile Sechs, let us hope that not the singular voice of History, but rather the myriad voices of her story find the greatest resonance.


  1. Friedrich Nietzsche, «Zweites Stück. Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben,» Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen (Frankfurt a.M.: Insel, 1981) 95.

  2. Ulrich Greiner, «Die deutsche Gesinnungsästhetik. Noch einmal: Christa Wolf und der deutsche Literaturstreit. Eine Zwischenbilanz,» Die Zeit 2 November 1990. Reprinted in: Karl Deiritz and Hannes Krauss, ed., Der deutsch-deutsche Literaturstreit oder «Freund, es spricht sich schlecht mit gebundener Zunge» (Hamburg: Luchterhand, 1991) 139-45.

  3. For more on the debate see Thomas Anz, «Es geht nicht um Christa Wolf»: der Literaturstreit im vereinten Deutschland (München: Spangenberg, 1991).

  4. Marcel Reich-Ranicki, «Keine Frucht ohne Schale,» Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 29 August 1992.

  5. Walter Benjamin, «Über den Begriff der Geschichte,» Gesammelte Schriften, vol. I.2., ed. Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1980) 693-703.

  6. Benjamin 696.

  7. Monika Maron, «Verschüttete Kultur—Ein Gespräch mit Monika Maron,» interview with Gerhard Richter conducted November 1991. GDR Bulletin 18.1 (1992): 5.

  8. Monika Maron, «Ich war ein antifaschistisches Kind,» Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft. Artikel und Essays (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1993) 9-28.

  9. Maron, «Kind» 17.

  10. Maron, «Kind» 17.

  11. Maron, «Kind» 18.

  12. Hermann Weber, «Die Vergangenheit kann kaum bewältigt, wohl aber rasch und kritisch aufgearbeitet werden,» Aufbau und Fall einer Diktatur. Kritische Beiträge zur Geschichte der DDR (Köln: Bund, 1991) 187.

  13. Weber, «Die ‘weiβen Flecken’ der Geschichte,» Aufbau und Fall einer Diktatur 257.

  14. See: Margarete Mitscherlich, Erinnerungsarbeit. Zur Psychoanalyse der Unfähigkeit zu trauern (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1987). For a current discussion on Erinnerungsarbeit see: Brigitte Rauschenberg, ed. Erinnern, Wiederholen, Durcharbeiten. Zur Pyscho-Analyse deutscher Wenden (Berlin: Aufbau, 1992), in particular the article by Rauschenberg, «Erbschaft aus Vergessenheit—Zukunft aus Erinnerungsarbeit,» 27-55.

  15. Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich, Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern. Grundlagen kollektiven Verhaltens (München: Piper, 1967/1977).

  16. Weber, «Vergangenheit» 184.

  17. For more on the Hotel Lux and the «Gruppe Ulbricht» see Wolfgang Leonard, Die Revolution entläβt ihre Kinder (Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1955). On the Hotel Lux see also Gabrielle Fritz-Ullmer, Auseinandersetzung antifaschistischer Exil-Schriftsteller mit dem Problem des Stalinismus in Autobiographien der Nachkriegszeit, Frankfurter Beiträge zur neueren deutschen Literaturgeschichte, vol. 3 (Frankfurt a.M.: R. G. Fischer, 1989) 304-09.

  18. Christa Wolf, «Medaillons,» Lesen und Schreiben. Neue Sammlung (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1980) 24-25.

  19. Wolf, «Medaillons» 24.

  20. Wolf, «Medaillons» 25-26.

  21. Stille Zeile Sechs can be read as a continuation of Monika Maron's novel Die Überläuferin (1988), in which Rosalind Polkowski similarly leaves her position at Barabas' research institute in an attempt to defy her instrumentalization. It can also be read as part of a trilogy which includes Maron's Flugasche (1981).

  22. It is interesting to note that the narrator of Christa Wolf's Was bleibt (Frankfurt a.M.: Luchterhand, 1990), a narrator of an older generation, cannot feel such hatred. Wolf's narrator states: «Was mir fehlte, war wahrscheinlich ein gesunder nivellierender Haβ» (18).

  23. Teresa de Lauretis, Alice doesn't: feminism, semiotics, cinema (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984) 159.

  24. For more on the Rosa Luxemburg demonstration of January 1988 see «In die falsche Republik,» Spiegel 4 (1988): 99-100. On Rosa Luxemburg's cooptation by the GDR regime see also Hermann Weber, «Die SED und Rosa Luxemburg,» Aufbau und Fall einer Diktatur, 154-57, as well as Weber, «Vergangenheit» 183-90, in particular 187.

  25. Nietzsche 225.

  26. For elaboration on the notion of the «ex-centric» see Linda Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism. History, Theory, Fiction (London: Routledge, 1988) 35ff.

  27. Parallels can also be drawn between the «subculture» of the pub and the Prenzlauer Berg Szene in the GDR: both are subversive realms which nonetheless reveal many parallels to the dominant culture, as disclosures on the Stasi infiltration of the Prenzlauer Berg Szene have made evident. See Peter Böthig and Klaus Michael, eds., MachtSpiele. Literatur und Staatssicherheit im Fokus Prenzlauer Berg (Leipzig: Reclam, 1993).

  28. In Christa Wolf's Was bleibt, the narrative voice similarly fragments into three and remains trapped in a battle between multiple, irreconcilable voices: «Ich selbst. Wer war das. Welches der multiplen Wesen, aus denen ‘ich selbst’ mich zusammensetzte» (57).

  29. Reich-Ranicki, «Keine Frucht ohne Schale».

Ricarda Schmidt (essay date 1994)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4344

SOURCE: Schmidt, Ricarda. “From Surrealism to Realism: Monika Maron's Die Überläuferin and Stille Zeile Sechs.” In Women and the Wende: Social Effects and Cultural Reflections of the German Unification Process, edited by Elizabeth Boa and Janet Wharton, pp. 247-55. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994.

[In the following essay, Schmidt discusses Maron's shift from an imaginative, internalized exploration of psychic turmoil in Die Überläuferin to the realistic, coherent, and politicized narrative of Stille Zeile Sechs.]

From her surrealist novel Die Überläuferin, written in GDR times, Maron takes three protagonists over into her post-GDR novel Stille Zeile Sechs, the historian Rosalind Polkowski, her estranged husband Bruno, and his drinking companion, the philologist Karl-Heinz Baron, called ‘der Graf.’ New in Stille Zeile is Herbert Beerenbaum, a retired member of the nomenclature, Rosalind's acquaintance with him being presented in the form of flashbacks while she attends his funeral. Rosalind serves literally as his right hand: Beerenbaum dictates his memoirs to her because he cannot write himself, his right hand having been paralysed by a stroke. Beerenbaum serves her in turn as a father figure—as an oppressive patriarch on the social level, and, above all, as a reincarnation of her own communist father against whom Rosalind now renews her struggle. It was only by annoying her father, fully occupied with building the communist paradise, that Rosalind was able to achieve the attention she could not win by her attempts to gain his approval. Beerenbaum's patriarchal function is confirmed by a small Freudian transference: the first name of Rosalind's father in Die Überläuferin, Herbert, is given to his substitute in Stille Zeile Sechs, where the late Herr Polkowski becomes a very German ‘Fritz’ (Ü [Die Überläuferin], p. 20).1 Both novels also share some central motifs: Rosalind's obsession with death; the view that thinking for money is a perversion; the critical reflection on the status of victims and their relationship to their oppressors; the complex relationship between health and sickness; the analysis of some pillars of GDR society. Nevertheless, the two novels are written in very different styles, and I want to demonstrate this by examining the treatment of one of the motifs central to both novels.

In Die Überläuferin, Martha Mantel surprises, even shocks, her conscientious, dutiful friend Rosalind with the view that it is perverted, and probably even forbidden, to think for money (Ü, p. 44). Martha chooses rather to prostitute herself and steal. Thus she offends social norms which Rosalind has internalised, and Rosalind feels threatened by the challenge of Martha's behaviour to her basic convictions. On watching Martha steal for the first time, Rosalind reproaches her:

Du hast gestohlen, Martha. Martha sah mich verwundert an, denn für sie besagte der Satz nicht mehr als sie wuβte, daβ sie gestohlen hatte. Für mich aber, und das belegt meine innere Verwirrung, war er der äuβerste Ausdruck meiner Miβbilligung. Du hast gestohlen; was könnte man einem Menschen Schlimmeres sagen. Du hast getötet. Aber was sonst.

(Ü, p. 49)

Moreover, the radicalness of Martha's refusal to conform either to existing social rules or to Kant's categorical imperative would pose a threat to any society and thus makes the reader's identification with her difficult. Maron refuses here to construct her novel on the simple opposition between a repressive order, which is to be viewed negatively, and a rebellious individual, who is to be viewed positively. Rather she shows the necessity of individual rebellion against social norms without installing a positive new model of the relationship of the individual to society. In addition, she explores the conflict between social conformism and anarchy not as an interpersonal one, as it seemed at first sight, but as an intrapersonal one. Through fantastic adventures and virtuoso shiftings of pronouns and narrative perspective it becomes clear in the course of the novel that Martha functions as a part of Rosalind's personality. Rosalind even imagines her own act of rebellion along the same lines as Martha's, fantasising a theft in a supermarket (Ü, pp. 54-65). Thus in her presentation of Rosalind and Martha Maron breaks up the concept of a closed identity and shows the individual as the site of conflicting tendencies. Rosalind is both repelled and attracted by anarchic behaviour, and the upsurge of anarchic tendencies in her has a disorientating effect on her identity, the unity of which is shown to be based on repression.

Not only does Maron show through her non-realist presentation the internalisation of social norms, the repressed Other, and the tensions within the individual; she also refuses to ‘reward’ the disorientating, sometimes painful, breaking up of identity with a promise of private happiness or the attainment of a new, meaningful social order at the end of the novel. Problems are made visible in Die Überläuferin, but not resolved—although we do get a fleeting glimpse of what utopia might be on the level of fantasy. The ability to develop a utopia at all seems to be directly related to the degree of political oppression of the individual, as I argued in an earlier paper comparing East and West German women writers' conceptions of identity in the late eighties; there I found that positive models of what a liberated identity might be were absent from West German women's writing, but were developed at least on the level of fantasy or desire in East German writing.2 But in spite of this fantastic positive vision, Die Überläuferin tends to undermine certainties rather than to institute them. The open structure of Die Überläuferin invites engagement with the text, but not identification with the protagonists Rosalind or Martha as a model for one's own behaviour.

In Stille Zeile Sechs we find an almost identical sentence about the perversity of thinking for money—only the pejorative term here is ‘Schande,’ disgrace, rather than perversion (SZ [Stille Zeile Sechs], p. 19). But the relationship between the fictional sender and the receiver of this message places the reader in a very different position. Here it is the first-person narrator Rosalind Polkowski who utters it in her first encounter with Beerenbaum. Beerenbaum, the receiver of the message, is the symbol of repressive GDR socialism who strictly opposes any questioning of the norms he has helped to create—quite unlike Rosalind as receiver of the same message in Die Überläuferin, who was receptive to the influence of Martha's challenge. Rosalind, the sender of the message in Stille Zeile Sechs, has drawn far less provocative consequences from her insight than Martha Mantel. Rather than choosing a socially despised or even criminal form of life, radically questioning conceptions of good and evil, Rosalind Polkowski has given up her job as a historian in a research institute and now lives on her savings and on part-time unskilled jobs outside social institutions. She has chosen a ‘Nischenexistenz,’ as did a number of GDR citizens, living out a certain amount of opposition without offending the law. In Stille Zeile Sechs, then, the sender of the message takes up an unorthodox but respectable position, one which the demise of the GDR has elevated to the rank of honourable, if quiet, resistance to a repressive regime.

The different views of Martha and Rosalind in Die Überläuferin on the question of thinking for money serve to demonstrate an intrapersonal conflict, those of Rosalind and Beerenbaum in Stille Zeile Sechs express an interpersonal one, confirming subject positions rather than questioning them. Whereas in Die Überläuferin Martha's refusal to think for money embodies a valuable challenge to Rosalind's norms, entailing an imaginative exploration of the relationship between internalised values and repressive state agencies but without becoming a model on a concrete level (Ü, pp. 54-65), Rosalind's position in Stille Zeile Sechs is offered, not as a model for action—that would be too late, given that the novel was published after the GDR ceased to exist—but as a model of identification and of a correct vantage point for the interpretation of GDR history.

The fact that Rosalind's position in Stille Zeile Sechs is one which invites the reader's identification is confirmed when we compare the forms of legitimation Martha and Rosalind provide for their opinion that it is perverted or disgraceful to think for money. Martha claims, in the context of subsequently justifying her supermarket theft, to have derived her insight from the teachings of a pirate, alias a professor of mathematics (Ü, pp. 50-53). Thus she legitimates herself in a legendary non-realistic way, renouncing credibility and probability. Rosalind's insight, on the other hand, is presented as the result of personal experience and reflection. It is rendered understandable and acceptable through Rosalind's flashback to how she became suddenly conscious of the physically and psychically restricting conditions in which she was earning a living: one night she fed her intended evening meal to a stray cat and realised that in contrast to herself the cat did not pay with her freedom for her food. She recalls her working conditions—a tiny office, long working hours, no say in her work—like an imprisonment. In Rosalind's awakening desire ‘eine Katze sein, statt dieses Hundeleben zu führen’ (SZ, p. 20), the concrete experience she has just related is summed up in a well-known set phrase. This phrase appears as the logical consequence of her experience and its familiarity invites the reader to accept it as a well-known truth. This contrasts not only with the way Martha's legitimation was presented, but also with an intertext which is echoed here. In Sommerstück, Christa Wolf's narrator describes the effect of a line of poetry on a heterogeneous audience. It is from Sarah Kirsch's ‘Tilia Cordata’ and is freely quoted by the narrator as ‘Geh ich vom Sein des Hundes in das Sein der Katze.’3 Not only does this quotation meet with lack of understanding, it also causes a heated quarrel when one person without literary training or interests rejects it aggressively for its cryptic poetic diction, so far removed from everyday life. In Stille Zeile Sechs, Maron avoids the alienating effect of poetic language or unfamiliar structures and anchors her text firmly in a comprehensible presentation of reality, from which the occasional dreams and fantasies which do occur are clearly to be distinguished as such.

I would summarise the differing treatment of the same motif in the two novels in the following way. What Die Überläuferin presented in a provocative, fantastic way, breaking up identity and questioning internalised norms of good and evil without itself installing new norms, is set in Stille Zeile Sechs into a realistic context, with regard to both content and form, and invites an identificatory reading which confirms currently prevailing political values. Peter Graves rightly called the structure of Stille Zeile Sechs ‘quaintly old-fashioned’ in its being ‘harnessed single-mindedly to an external cause,’ and Iris Radisch judged: ‘Die Enge und Aufgeräumtheit des Buches, in dem es für alles einen Platz und eine Erklärung gibt, trifft die Enge und Aufgeräumtheit seines Gegenstandes.’4 While I agree with the first part of Radisch's statement, I have doubts whether the book's narrowness and tidiness do indeed correspond to its object. The fact that the book offers so little resistance to the reader, that it poses no problems either of aesthetic understanding or of evaluation of the main characters, that it rather produces agreement, makes me suspicious, since it means that the book is not offering a new perspective on reality.

In this respect, Christoph Hein provides an interesting point of comparison, for two reasons. Firstly, Hein's Der fremde Freund, published in West Germany under the title Drachenblut, shares with Stille Zeile Sechs the basic plot structure of a female first-person narrator attending a funeral which causes her to remember her relationship to the dead person and to recall significant details of her own life. Secondly, Christoph Hein and his first two longer prose texts, the Novelle Der fremde Freund and the novel Horns Ende, are the objects of a thinly veiled attack in Stille Zeile Sechs, as Martin Kane has pointed out in his review of Maron's novel.5 Viktor Sensmann, a transparent nom de plume for ‘Freund Hein,’ and his fictional characters are criticised by Rosalind Polkowski for their lack of rebelliousness:

Man muβte Sensmann nicht erleben, um zu wissen, daβ er kein Aufrührer war. Auch in seinen Büchern gab es keine Aufrührer, nur wehrlose Geschöpfe mit vertrockneten Seelen, so daβ ich mich bei der Lektüre gefragt hatte, wie er auch nur für die Dauer des Schreibens die Gesellschaft dieser Leute freiwillig ertragen hatte, ohne sich einen Aufrührer für sie oder gegen sie zu erschaffen.

(SZ, p. 105)

Rosalind's view of Sensmann's way of writing is scathing:

Ich hatte zwei Bücher von ihm gelesen, politische Unterhaltungsromane, die ihren Erfolg dem Miβverständnis verdankten, wagemutig zu sein. Welt-bekannte Geheimnisse erzählte Sensmann so gewichtig, daβ man denken muβte, er hätte darunter ein anderes, das wirkliche Geheimnis versteckt.

(SZ, p. 103)

Hein's subsequent novel, Der Tangospieler, is the book for which Sensmann needs Beerenbaum's expertise on ‘das Berliner Universitätsleben zu Beginn der sechziger Jahre’ (SZ, p. 106).6 However, what Rosalind disregards is the fact that Hein's first-person narrator Claudia in Der fremde Freund is an ambiguous character who is designed to stimulate in readers both sympathy and rejection, thus opening up a space for them to develop a view of the narrator and her living conditions that surpasses her contradictory self-image. While the implied author's suggestions about the deformation of his first-person narrator and about the relationship of her existentialist alienation à la Camus to socio-historical conditions in the GDR are in fact rather obvious to a reader trained in modern literature, Hein's portrayal of such pervasive alienation without a reliable narrative voice to explain and judge it was something new to the GDR reader. It provoked a debate with widely differing opinions on how to interpret the Novelle in Weimarer Beiträge.7 By comparison, in Stille Zeile Sechs Maron gives a much more closed and ready-made world-view, presenting her first-person narrator as a reliable, insightful, sympathetic and well-integrated personality who invites the reader to follow her perspective rather than question it. Paradoxically, Maron chooses to depict a more rebellious content in a more autocratic form.

And yet the novel sets out to seek an answer to a fundamental moral problem in Rosalind's leading question, adopted from Ernst Toller's autobiography Eine Jugend in Deutschland: ‘Muβ der Handelnde schuldig werden, immer und immer? Oder, wenn er nicht schuldig werden will, untergehen?’ (SZ, p. 41).8 In his autobiography, Toller gives this as the dilemma he wanted to explore in his expressionist drama Masse Mensch, written during his imprisonment in 1919.9Stille Zeile Sechs, like Toller's play, answers the question in the affirmative, but with regard to Beerenbaum as the representative of the anti-fascist movement which became the Stalinist ruling class in the GDR, the novel merely states but does not explore this inevitable dilemma. That is, it does not offer much new insight into that particular generation of communists. The novel is primarily concerned with examining the options available to the next generation. Rosalind's estranged husband Bruno, with all his knowledge, and the naive, apolitical Thekla do not act at all in the political arena. Thekla is, by the way, a more sympathetic and realistic version of the caricatured ‘Frau mit der hohen Stimme’ in Die Überläuferin, both reminiscing that their ‘Mami war so ein starker Mensch’ (Ü, p. 36; SZ, p. 128). While Bruno is guiltily wasting his considerable talents in being a domineering ‘Kneipenpersönlichkeit’ (SZ, p. 73), Thekla's simple human decency is rewarded by a late love; that is, both survive by choosing life beyond political action. Rosalind is presented as the only character in the novel who—in spite of her self-consciously felt lack of knowledge—longs for decisive action without being able to find a field of activity in a state that seems to be firmly in the hands of the old guard. Her only ‘action’ in Stille Zeile Sechs consists in confronting a sick retired party member with truths he has repressed. In doing this Rosalind contributes to Beerenbaum's heart attack and recognises that in fighting him she is becoming like him. But Maron takes great pains to reduce Rosalind's guilt in order to preserve her as a figure of identification. In the scene leading up to Beerenbaum's heart attack—the one scene that does depict an act of breathtaking brutality which would make Rosalind guilty—Rosalind, the first-person narrator, switches to third-person narration to stress her alienation from what she is recalling, and she emphasises before, during and after the narration of what occurs that it takes place only in her imagination, not in reality:

Die Erinnerung an das folgende Geschehen fällt mir schwer, nicht weil ich nicht wüβte, was vorgefallen ist. Ich weiβ es so genau, als hätte ich diese Minuten zweifach erlebt, als Zuschauerin und als Akteurin. Und eigentlich war ich sogar dreifach dabei, denn auch als Akteurin war ich geteilt, in eine, die etwas tat, und eine andere, die etwas zu tun wünschte.

(SZ, pp. 204-205)

Das Schlimmste sah ich in ihren Augen, wo sich spiegelte, was sie nicht tat: Rosalind stehend vor Beerenbaum, die Faust erhoben zum Schlag, die andere Hand an Beerenbaums Hals zwischen Kinn und Kehlkopf. Die Faust traf sein Gesicht. Das Gebiβ fiel ihm aus dem Mund. Sie schlug ihn wieder, bis er vom Stuhl stürzte. Der wollene Hausmantel öffnete sich über den Beinen, und Beerenbaums Schenkelfleisch lag nackt auf dem Boden, unter der weiβen Wäsche sichtbar das weiche Genital. Sie trat ihn gegen die Rippen, den Kopf, in die Hoden, beidbeinig sprang sie auf seinen Brustkorb. Er rührte sich nicht. Als das Blut aus seinem Ohr lief, gab sie erschöpft auf.

(SZ, pp. 207-208)

Ich habe Beerenbaums Zungenbein nur mit den Augen gesucht. Ich habe nicht meine Hände um seinen Hals gelegt und mit meinem Daumen seine Gurgel eingedrückt, das habe ich nicht.

(SZ, p. 209)

While Rosalind's hatred of Beerenbaum culminates here in murderous desires, Maron reduces the impact of this aggressive side of Rosalind by having her spell out that she has experienced a temporary split of identity into a passively observant self, an acting self, and a self acting in the imagination, thus making the appearance of the repressed Other in her both an easily recognisable and safely contained temporary event.

Thus we have indeed a rather neat and tidy story, quite opposed to the mysteriousness, ‘dem Wirrwarr der Gesten und Worte’ (Ü, p. 74), which the Rosalind of the earlier novel recognised as constituting one's own life, as opposed to other people's lives which one can perceive more easily in a simple cause-and-effect pattern. But this apparent coherence in other people's lives, e.g. her friend Clairchen's and her Aunt Ida's, the Rosalind of Die Überläuferin suspected to be

nichts als eine Täuschung […], begründet in meiner Unkenntnis von Clairchens und Idas Geheimnissen, den hunderttausend verschwiegenen Zufällen oder der eigenen, niemals preisgegebenen Abgründigkeit. Zudem kennt man fremde Leben, sofern man ihnen nicht gerade beiwohnt, vorwiegend durch Erzählungen, also schon aufbereitet in ihren scheinbar kausalen Verflechtungen, wogegen das eigene, nur erlebte Leben als ein rätselhafter Haufen von Knoten und Schlingen vor einem liegt und es der jeweiligen Stimmung oder auch nur der Willkür überlassen bleibt, das Hin und Her eines Details zu bestimmen.

(Ü, pp. 72-73)

It is this deceptive clarity that characterises the presentation of Beerenbaum in Stille Zeile Sechs, and, to a lesser extent, also that of Rosalind. It seems as if the end of the GDR offers that fixed point to Maron around which stories of GDR life fall into place and can be told relying on existing post-Marxist narratives about the GDR. The author of Die Überläuferin, on the other hand, still living within the system, was far from having a distanced vantage point and so had to work through a far more disordered experience and to create a new way of looking at life. She questioned the Marxist meta-narrative without replacing it with another meta-narrative.

Yet while Stille Zeile Sechs suffers from relying too much on already existing systems of interpreting GDR history, and thus does not offer much of a new perspective, there is more attention to narrative detail. With regard to some narrative details, though not to the book as a whole, I would agree with Martin Kane's judgement that Stille Zeile Sechs is ‘beautifully constructed and written.’10 What stands out positively is the analysis of body language, which enables Rosalind, for example, to guess Beerenbaum's biography correctly, to comment on the physical deformation of officials who sport a particular kind of double chin, and on the behaviour of old men in general. Also, Rosalind's occasionally macabre imagination enthralls the reader. Thus she envisages maggots worming their way through the double chin of a particularly unpleasant, greasy man giving a speech at Beerenbaum's funeral:

Die schwere, entbehrungsreiche Zeit der Emigration, sagte der Mann. Kein Wort über das Hotel Lux. Während er sprach, blähte sich das Doppelkinn wie bei einem kollernden Truthahn. Ich muβte diesen Fleischsack immerfort anstarren, und je länger ich ihn anstarrte, um so gröβer schien er zu werden. Wenn er nun platzt, dachte ich, wie ein aufgeblasener Frosch; ob es das je gegeben hat, ein zerplatztes Doppelkinn; was war überhaupt drin in so einem prallen, eisbeinfarbenen Doppelkinn. Und dann passierte es: Durch ein Gemisch von Fettgewebe, Blut und Hautfetzen wühlten sich die Würmer aus dem Sarg meiner Groβmutter väterlicherseits. Ich schloβ die Augen, riβ sie auf, sah zu den Musikern, hoffend, ihr Gleichmut könnte das ekelhafte Bild verjagen, ich mied den Anblick des Redners, nichts half, aus dem aufgerissenen Doppelkinn fielen fette, satte, weiβe Leichenwürmer.

(SZ, pp. 92-93)

There are wonderful witty absurdities, like Rosalind talking about sentences which rise from her subconscious, expressing her feeling that her life will not begin today or tomorrow, but only the day after tomorrow, after the death of the likes of Beerenbaum: ‘Übermorgen trommeln die Kakerlaken das Himmelreich ein’ (SZ, p. 155) is unforgettable as an expression of Rosalind's absurd hope for a future overthrow of an apparently unmovable political system. Another noteworthy feature is Maron's capacity for tragicomedy. ‘Der Graf,’ on hearing the name of the person who was responsible, twenty-three years ago, for his three-year prison sentence, passed for sending a refugee his doctoral thesis, feels shaken to the core. Yet his suffering, with which readers do sympathise, is undercut by the comical description of his mannerisms: a strand of hair, stuck all across his head in that ridiculous and unsuccessful strategy of so many bald men, comes undone in this emotionally stressful scene. On regaining his composure, and his ill-fated little vanity, he sticks the hair back in place—with beer.

Finally, I would say that Stille Zeile Sechs is what the British call ‘a good read.’ It is entertaining, even witty in parts, but its realistic style with metaphors taken mainly from flora and fauna does not make demands on the reader's aesthetic perception. Rather the message of the novel is very much on the surface: the victims of fascism have turned into oppressors who quash every attempt to question their power with reference to their former status as victims; their present-day victims in turn are tied to them through hatred, because their lives have been diminished by these oppressors (to some of whom, moreover, they have been bound by unrequited love). Maron has moved from an interrogative text written within the GDR to the certainties of a declarative text in post-GDR times—one which is ironically close in form (though not in content) to the aesthetic of socialist realism which was for so long demanded by that vanished state: it is, after all, an anti-socialist model heroine who buries the representative of GDR socialism.11


  1. Page references to Maron's novels preceded by Ü and SZ refer respectively to Die Überläuferin (Frankfurt/Main: Fischer, 1988; first published 1986) and Stille Zeile Sechs (Frankfurt/Main: S. Fischer, 1991).

  2. ‘The Concept of Identity in Recent East and West German Women's Writing,’ in German Literature at a Time of Change, 1989-1990: German Unity and German Identity in Literary Perspective, edited by Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes and Roland Smith (Berne: Lang, 1991), pp. 429-47.

  3. Christa Wolf, Sommerstück (Frankfurt/Main: Luchterhand, 1989), p. 65; Sarah Kirsch, ‘Tilia Cordata,’ in Kirsch, Katzenkopfpflaster (Munich: dtv, 1978), p. 81 (first published in the collection Rückenwind (Ebenhausen near Munich: Langewiesche-Brandt, 1977).

  4. Peter James (pseudonym of Peter Graves), ‘A Privileged Grave,’ Times Literary Supplement, 20 November 1992, p. 24; Iris Radisch, ‘Der Lurch muβ sterben,’ Die Zeit, 11 October 1991, p. 3.

  5. Christoph Hein, Drachenblut oder Der fremde Freund (Hamburg: Luchterhand, 1989); first published as Der fremde Freund (Berlin, Weimar: Aufbau, 1982). Christoph Hein, Horns Ende (Frankfurt/Main: Luchterhand, 1985; first published Berlin, Weimar, 1985). Martin Kane, ‘Monika Maron, Stille Zeile Sechs,Pen International, XLIII, no. 1 (1993), 17-19 (p. 19).

  6. Christoph Hein, Der Tangospieler (Hamburg: Luchterhand, 1991; first published Berlin, Weimar, 1989).

  7. R. Bernhardt et al., ‘Für und Wider: “Der fremde Freund” von Ch. Hein,’ Weimarer Beiträge, 29, no. 9 (1983), 1635-55. For Western interpretations see Hannes Krauss, ‘Schreibend das Sprechen üben oder: “Worüber man nicht reden kann, davon kann die Kunst ein Lied singen” oder “Als Kind habe ich Stalin gesehen”—Zur Prosa Christoph Heins,’ in Geist und Macht: Writers and the State in the GDR, edited by Axel Goodbody and Dennis Tate, German Monitor, 29, (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1992), pp. 204-14; J. H. Reid, ‘Reading Christoph Hein,’ in Socialism and the Literary Imagination: Essays on East German Writers, edited by Martin Kane (Oxford: Berg, 1991), pp. 213-28; Georgeta Vancea, Der narrative Diskurs in Christoph Heins' ‘Der fremde Freund’ (Uppsala: Acta Univ. Ups, 1993).

  8. Ernst Toller, Eine Jugend in Deutschland (Leipzig: Reclam, 1970), p. 218.

  9. Ernst Toller, Masse Mensch, in Ernst Toller, Gesammelte Werke, Band 2, Dramen und Gedichte aus dem Gefängnis 1918-1924, edited by John M. Spalek and Wolfgang Frühwald (Munich: Carl Hanser, 1978), pp. 63-112.

  10. Kane, p. 19.

  11. On Maron's novels as deconstructions of the socialist model personality see Astrid Herhoffer's contribution to this volume.

Susan C. Anderson (essay date 1995)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7557

SOURCE: Anderson, Susan C. “Creativity and Nonconformity in Monika Maron's Die Überläuferin.” In Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature and Culture, no. 10, edited by Jeanette Clausen and Sara Friedrichsmeyer, pp. 143-60. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, Anderson examines the use of fantasy, memory, and imagination by the heroine of Die Überläuferin as a means of escaping the repressive structures of the authoritarian GDR society.]

Much attention has been devoted to German literary works that deal with the Berlin Wall in an attempt to discover anticipations of its opening or assumptions about a “German” national identity.1 The Wall itself has been ascribed varied functions; in Christa Wolf's Der geteilte Himmel (1963) it serves as a protection, but it is an obstruction in Ulrich Plenzdorf's kein runter kein fern (1978). It becomes a barrier with no meaning in Peter Schneider's tale Der Mauerspringer (1982) and Bodo Morshäuser's Die Berliner Simulation (1983). In Peter Schneider's Paarungen (1992) it marks difference. In East German literature the difficulty or danger in crossing over to the other (western) side of the Wall is frequently overcome through fantasy, as in Klaus Schlesinger's “Die Spaltung des Erwin Racholl” (1977). However, in Der geteilte Himmel and in Helga Schubert's “Das verbotene Zimmer” (1982), the heroines do gain real access to the other side, but, finding the West as decadent as they had been taught to believe, they return home. Endeavors to break down or transcend obstacles, represented by the Wall metaphor, are most often the result of a longing for autonomy. Political unity with West Germany plays a secondary role, if any at all.

East German texts dealing with the Wall since the 1970s frequently depict the debilitating effects of the internalization of an authoritarian political system. In some instances this process results in psychological breakdown. In Schlesinger's short story, for example, the main figure mentally destroys the barriers that he is physically unable to surmount, thereby breaking all ties to the world around him. This crisis occurs after a fantasized trip to the West and is reminiscent of the heroine Rita's collapse in Der geteilte Himmel, only Schlesinger offers no hope for a better future. In most of these narratives, what the protagonists discover on the other side of the Wall, whether through fantasy or experience, is not what they had expected. The wall narratives inevitably problematize more general aspects of what it means to be German in either the East or West as well as of how identity is conceived. For example, Schlesinger's character suffers from suppressed guilt for the Holocaust, and Martin Walser's protagonist experiences a personality split while living a double life as an East German spy in Dorle und Wolf (1987).

In her novel Die Überläuferin (1986), Monika Maron likewise portrays a trip to the western side of the Wall, but presents a different outcome to the crossing of borders. Through retrospection and fantasizing, Maron's protagonist Rosalind Polkowski eventually demolishes all cultural and social barriers between her public conformity and repressed individuality. Her efforts climax in her fantasy of a visit to New York City, where she finds a new self after a symbolic embrace of her most repugnant and forbidden desires. Thus the West, precisely because of its degeneracy, provides the locus for Rosalind's liberation and revitalization. Among the derelicts in the Bowery during her imagined liberation, Rosalind recognizes, acknowledges, and absorbs fragments of her self that she had relegated to the margins of her psyche. In her imagination, she is able to manipulate her interactions with her lover, her friends, and various officials in order to uncover the absurdities of their perceived superiority over her. For example, she resorts to speaking an Eskimo language while debating with her lover and his drinking companion, both of whom claim to be better educated than she. “Und Rosalind: Niune napivâ erdluvdlune” (85). Her apparent knowledge of a language they do not comprehend exposes the hollowness of their rhetoric, which they have employed to impress and silence her rather than to communicate (82-86).2

In the figure of Rosalind we are confronted with a woman who through creativity is able to subvert the public discourses of control that entrap her. She takes statements to their most absurd yet logical conclusion, as in the narrative's four satirical Zwischenspielen where characters spout clichés and party doctrine in discussing such topics as family and identity. Rosalind's victimization corresponds to the systematic suppression of irrational, affective, sensual, and creative human qualities by dominant norms, by “einer autoritären kleinbürgerlich-feudalen Machtstruktur,” as Maron later asserted in reference to the GDR (“Schriftsteller” 70). She posits through her main character an alternative power of private action.

Although Rosalind is unable to break out of her enclosure in this narrative, which was written when the opening of the Wall was only a chimera, the novel itself provides a model of resistance grounded in a non-linear form of expression that has most commonly been associated with the “feminine.” Yet such a form of expression is, in the words of Juliet Mitchell, “just what the patriarchal universe defines as the feminine, the intuitive, the religious, the mystical, the playful, all those things that have been assigned to women—the heterogeneous, the notion that women's sexuality is much more one of a whole body, not so genital, not so phallic” (102). My intention is not to determine what Maron's notion of “feminine” is. I rather maintain that her narrative exposes the life-draining effects of the suppression of those qualities that have traditionally been ascribed to the “woman's sphere,” such as non goal-oriented patterns of thinking, sensuality, and creativity. The narrative also shows how fantasy can help bring suppressed desires into consciousness, a process similar to Julia Kristeva's concept of the functioning of “poetic” (rhythmic, disruptive, unstable) language.3

Through an analysis of the representation and role of fantasy and memory in the protagonist's quest for self-assertion and the related images of walls, death, and rebirth, my article will reveal how Die Überläuferin demonstrates a means for inverting an overpowering structure of control. I suggest that the narrative represents the destabilizing and self-emancipatory effects of creative action. The self-knowledge resulting from such action can be achieved only after recognizing the oppressive nature of an unreflected “identity.” The main figure's growing awareness of her inferior position in her personal relationships and profession allows her to create new roles for herself. She deserts the self she has been taught to be in order to seek a more liberating one. In the words of Ricarda Schmidt, “[t]he rejection of the concept of a closed identity as part of the status quo is a central part of her desertion” (435).

As Rosalind's sense of self disintegrates, she becomes increasingly alienated from her body. Her limbs become paralyzed; she loses her sense of touch and feels neither hunger nor thirst. She is, in a way, imprisoned in her body, for as we learn later, her physical condition deteriorates as a sign of her increasing self-alienation and in rebellion against it.4 The less her body moves, however, the more freely her imagination runs. Indeed, during her dreamy states following her frequent operations, she attains a sense of her repressed self (or selves):

Aber in den Atempausen, die mir durch die Operationen vergönnt waren und die ich vorwiegend benutzte, um zu schlafen, und ich schlief, um zu träumen, verlor sich das fremde Etwas in mir, es verschmolz mit meinem geschwächten, widerstandslosen Körper zu einer Person, die wieder ganz und gar ich war.


Her imagination seeks to break its confines, to “live” without the body. Her situation approaches that of the schizophrenic, as defined by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, who, in a stationary position, crosses over limits in order to set “desiring-production back into motion” (130-31).

Rosalind's body represents the limitations of her existence as a middle-aged, intellectual woman who has obediently accepted all restrictions imposed on her by her parents, lover, employer, and the state, that is, a “Sklavendasein” (99). Her remembered feelings of inadequacy in comparison to her lover Bruno, based in part on his education and family background, lead to the angry recognition that her perceived inferiority derives from her acceptance of certain ideas about her gender,

über die eigene Unzulänglichkeit, über die Ungerechtigkeit der Natur, die sie mit so verschieden wirkenden Hormonen bedacht hatte, über das ewige Gerede von junger und schöner Weiblichkeit, dem auch sie sich nicht entziehen konnte, wodurch ihre Wut letztlich wieder auf sie selbst gelenkt wurde.


Rosalind judges her inchoate desires negatively because she has learned to view them as part of being female, different, and therefore deficient. The narrative traces her process of overcoming her fear of acting out her own inclinations. Her paralysis, a reaction against her socialization into a “useful” member of a collective, initiates a process of self-destruction that concludes with a new self-awareness. Such knowledge comes only after rejecting rational, logical thought patterns for a freely flowing, associative mode of thinking that gradually disengages the protagonist from the world around her, a way of thinking referred to in the narrative as writing by “Damen” (156), as “Wind, Sonnenstrahlen und Wellenschaum” (159). She appears lost in her own fantasies because she is involved in a search for something she cannot yet express but which is partially embodied in Martha and Clairchen, her alter egos.

Maron depicts Rosalind's search as an example of the power of self-creation through reflection. By treating herself as an object of investigation, Rosalind can use her historical skills to unearth the knowledge she needs to heal herself. In re-creating herself in her imagination, Rosalind allows her old self to disintegrate until she sees her image in the person of Martha, the “other woman” she has been pursuing. This creature, consisting of her recollections of a woman she admired, is all she is not. By reinventing herself as this woman towards the end of the narrative, Rosalind in effect dies and becomes a new person, one who is also Martha.5

Rosalind's distance from a notion of a complete self is represented formally by the frequent changes between first- and third-person narration, thereby, as Schmidt points out, “preventing a neat separation between the levels of memory, fantasy and reflection” (430). As the narrative voice becomes more confused, so too does the narration, such as the juxtaposition of Rosalind's memory of sorting through her Aunt Ida's possessions and her vision of wounded bodies. Rosalind's jumping from one imagined adventure to another creates a surrealistic disjointedness in the narrative as well as the impression that she is going mad. The increasingly violent scenes in the protagonist's mind serve as a parallel to the violations against humanity in the system of rigid work and gender roles in which she has grown up and to which she has submitted herself.

Several critics have seen the ending of Maron's novel as offering merely a hope for art to alter the oppressive mechanisms of patriarchal society (Hauser, Puhl, Kane). Other analyses have focused on the role of fantasy and remembrance in reconstructing the main figure's image of herself and have emphasized its so-called utopian aspects. Some critics maintain, for example, that Maron offers no real response to an oppressive reality, for they view the world of fantasy as not truly liberating (Franke, Jung). As Ursula Mahlendorf contends:

Die Sehnsucht nach der Wirklichkeit und die Rückbesinnung auf weibliche Lebenskraft lösen aber wohl das Identitäts- und Wirklichkeitsproblem kaum; eindringlicher und realer als diese Sehnsucht wirkt der Alptraum einer der Frau feindlichen gesellschaftlichen Welt.


Other scholars see the novel as more provocative. Schmidt claims that Maron challenges the concept of a “whole” person, for her narrative suggests a plethora of identities lying repressed in Rosalind. Nevertheless, Schmidt finds that Maron's figures are still caught up in conventional forms of sexual desire that prevent a more radical narrative of liberation (435). Martin Kane, on the other hand, regards Maron's depiction of “anarchic fantasy” as more universally disruptive, “as potentially subversive to a capitalist as to a socialist way of ordering things” (233, 234).

In keeping with the latter two readings, I suggest that Maron's novel presents an example of how fantasy can transform the silenced citizen by allowing her to create herself in opposition to her cultural role. Fantasy offers her a site for examining her conformity to cultural norms. Enclosed in her room, but no longer entrapped, Maron's main character is a different person at the end, and she achieves her new identity with the aid of a nonlinear reconstruction of her past that defies her professional training, which she recalls as “ihr verbissener Kampf um eine ihr wichtige These oder Formulierung” (109). Her imagination incites a powerful rush towards freedom that can transcend any external barrier—be it the body of the dreamer, as her paralysis suggests, or the social/political system of repression. Although Rosalind cannot completely overcome the narrowness of her physical world, she can alter her position within it. Strength in the private sphere nurtured by a different manner of thinking, one that is perceived as useless because it does not serve dominant ideological purposes, can undermine the internalized public apparatus of control by revealing opportunities for personal growth. This new way of thinking is what Martha suggests to Rosalind as the way to begin her biography (51) and what Maron's narrative does in its rejection of the tenets of socialist realism.

Maron's protagonist gradually re-evaluates the way she has been viewing the world:

Sie hatte gelernt, ihr Denken für Wochen oder Monate einem einzigen Thema zuzuordnen, es in eine bestimmte Richtung zu lenken und zu einem konkreten Ergebnis zu führen—zielstrebiges wissenschaftliches Denken nannte Barabas [ihr Chef] das.


Martha provides the model for other ways of contemplating: she thought “was sie wollte und wie sie wollte, sprunghaft, verträumt und, wie Rosalind immer öfter bemerkte, geradezu kindlich” (98). Rosalind then makes use of her professional training to speculate about her own immuration (129). She slowly withdraws from contributing to the creation of a history of collective progress, convinced it would only legitimate the status quo, in favor of imagining a past that focuses on desire and its repression. As Rosalind dreams an alternative history, Maron writes one that reveals the daily concessions that individuals in industrialized societies make in their attempts to become useful citizens, such as Rosalind's diligence at accomplishing work projects that do not engage her creatively. Additionally, Rosalind's musings over Martha's description of a future society that promises to instill only automated responses in its members make clear for her the necessity of a persistent focus on personal needs and the refusal to abandon the desire to fulfill them:

Deinen Kopf bauen sie einer Maschine ein, deine Arme machen sie zu Kränen, deinen Brustkorb zum Karteikasten, deinen Bauch zur Müllhalde. Aber in jedem Menschen gibt es etwas, das sie nicht gebrauchen können, das Besondere, das Unberechenbare, Seele, Poesie, Musik, ich weiβ keinen passenden Namen dafür, eben das, was niemand wissen konnte, ehe der Mensch geboren war.


One can resist such a robotlike future, Rosalind realizes, by tapping those internal creative resources that defy automation.

Rosalind's playing with her thoughts during her paralysis is analogous to attempts to move freely within the authoritarian socialist system that the narrative alternately satirizes and directly criticizes here.6 Rosalind's imagination offers her a power that is at first exhilarating. “Es ist unglaublich,” she exults, “es ist phantastisch, noch phantastischer, als ich dachte” (58). Within her static confines she has a force that can open the door to a world of unlimited space for movement. She must allow it free rein, however, for it to be effective, because, as her friend Clairchen advises her, “Imädshineischen [sic] … halbjewagt, is janz verloren” (179).

Isolation provides the opportunity for one to nurture a liberating fantasy. In reference to nineteenth-century American women's writing, Judith Lowder Newton asserts that by focusing on the private sphere certain women writers represent how women develop a “power of ability” (771). They use that power to give themselves inner strength rather than attempting to exercise influence over others. Their writing provides a model for action for their readers (Warhol 762). Maron similarly presents a dreamer whose thoughts prepare her to take an active role. In order to succeed in her quest for power over herself, Rosalind must first confront the different forms of authority to which she has been subjected. In Maron's novel, male characters most often represent authority, but Rosalind discovers that even her beloved Aunt Ida has instilled in her a fear that makes her submissive and goal-oriented (176-77).

One type of rebellion against the pressure to submit is a reworking of language. As mentioned above, Bruno, Rosalind's estranged lover, and his friend Baron, a Sinologist nicknamed the Count, as well as the characters in the Zwischenspielen represent the alienating effects of a language that no longer communicates. It is used only as a means of exerting control over others through issuing orders or exhibiting “superior” knowledge.7 However, Rosalind learns from listening to her female alter egos that there is a secret language within the public discourse, composed of the same words, through which one can perceive a different world: “Für die andere Welt bedeuteten das Geheimnis und das Unerklärbare nicht weniger als den unbenennbaren Zusammenhang der Dinge und unserer selbst, die wir uns zwischen ihnen bewegen” (95). This secret language has the potential to challenge the dominant discourses, although its use is fraught with danger: when Martha uses that language in unconventional ways in order to undermine its hierarchical function, she commits a transgression punishable by death. As the male poet/vampire who intends to kill her explains: “Die Sprache ist keine bunte Wiese, Madame, auf der man verliebt spazierengeht. Sie ist eine steile, hochragende Felswand, und die kleinsten Risse muβ der Dichter nutzen, um an ihr emporzusteigen” (156). Christine Betzner sees Martha as representative of the semiotic sphere that Rosalind has ignored: “Schwingungen, Ton, Musik und Körpersprache sind die Sprachen, die Martha zugängig sind” (63).

Another direction for revolt is against the concept of utility. Rosalind's longing for the secretive and forbidden as a means of extricating herself from patriarchal control also focuses on Martha's admonition that she find her own “nutzloseste Eigenschaft” and develop it (50-51)—advice that directly contradicts the official counsel she later receives: “Jeder Mensch ist glücklich, wenn er sich nützlich fühlt” (67), where the term “nützlich” is defined by the state. But seizing the initiative would contradict Rosalind's inculcated notion of her social role, a role that makes it difficult for her to accept the solution to her dilemma as represented by Martha and Clairchen. The latter, as Thomas Beckermann makes clear, are “beyond the reach of representatives of law and order because they do not take reality seriously” (100). Martha is so alluring because she breaks the rules and goes unpunished. The danger to the state of such autonomy is expressed satirically by the Man in the Red Uniform in one of the narrative's Zwischenspielen: “Der unidentische Mensch denkt aufrührerisch und strebt Veränderungen an, was ihn zu einem gesellschafts-gefährdenden Subjekt, in Einzelfällen sogar zum Kriminellen macht” (125). Martha is just such an “unidentical” person, one who rejects any notion of self foisted upon her. Rosalind, in contrast, is most alone when she has bought into the ideology of influence over others. In an attempt to steal a sense of control for herself, Rosalind imagines that she instigates a riot at a grocery store and regards it proudly as her “eigene Tat” (63), as “[e]in unerfüllter Traum” (65). However, she undermines her own tentative steps toward freedom by endeavoring to please the Robert Redford-like detective interrogating her. The narrative reveals here a susceptibility to the seduction of masculine virility and power masked as concern, which maintains the conformist in a girlish, docile role.

The images of death, walls, and madness further illustrate the main character's gradual process of self-recognition. In keeping with the theme of (self)-redemption, her rebirth begins on the third night of her immuration (9). Up until then, as Horst Hartmann asserts, she has been living with the feeling “lebendig begraben zu sein” (176). Her internalization of the structures that oppress her has deadened her to the creative, spontaneous parts of herself. Death represents both freedom and the end of it, a synthesizing state that Rosalind desires and fears from her earliest memories: she tried to die before being born, hoping to escape “einen eigenen, kalten, schmerzhaften Tod” (15). Accordingly, death wishes and figures permeate the rest of the narrative (Beckermann 99; Stamer 70), such as her desire for her father's death, her Aunt Ida's feared demise, the landscape of wounded and dying characters, and her own imagined death. As the narrative winds its way toward a conclusion and the images of decay increase, the death Rosalind symbolically endures proves to be instead a process for eradicating malignant patterns of thinking.

The most disgusting harbinger of doom to be exorcised is the conductor and former Nazi with a lame leg and a missing eye, a figure similar to the limping gatekeeper at her place of employment. Both men have regulated her movement, but the former Nazi is the more repulsive representative of oppression. Thus his resemblance to the little piglike dog that suddenly appears:

Sein Schwanz, der sich steil ringelte, erinnerte an einen Schweineschwanz, stammte aber wahrscheinlich von einem Spitz, wogegen der Kopf sogar einen Schäferhund in der Ahnenreihe vermuten lieβ. … Plötzlich spritzte warme Nässe gegen Rosalinds Hand. Der Hund raste kläffend davon, während der Alte den Rest seiner Pisse auf die Erde laufen lieβ. … Rosalind war aufgesprungen, stand vor dem Mann, dessen Schwanz aus der offenen Hose hing wie eine vertrocknete Wurzel. Die Pisse auf ihrer Hand brannte, als hätte sie in Brennesseln gegriffen. Du Sau, sagte Rosalind, du alte mistige Pissau.


In this episode, we see how Rosalind too is contaminated by the filthy past. The old Nazi exemplifies a fascist mentality that still lingers in her own society. It is a fascism that Michel Foucault described as “the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us” (xiii). The phallic symbolism that relates the old man to the dog exposes the beastlike nature of patriarchal power systems. The episode depicts a part of Rosalind that she needs to confront, an aspect that lies in the realm of public depravity. And the episode occurs after she has decided to put her head through the wall, a turning point that marks the beginning of Rosalind's assumption of responsibility for her thinking: “Und jetzt, sagt Rosalind, werde ich mit dem Kopf durch die Wand gehen” (130). Her growing self-awareness at this point allows her to recognize and repulse those aspects embodied by the old man that she had internalized.

Clairchen, an anarchic figure and another alter ego of the main character, is also a portent of death. She illustrates the repressive aspects of love that help maintain Rosalind in a dependent position. Her role as incarnation of Rosalind's fear of sensuality and skepticism towards love becomes clear when Clairchen takes off her head to expose the smaller head of actress and femme fatale Greta Garbo (127-28). This surrealistic scene also reveals Clairchen's function of reflecting in an exaggerated manner Rosalind's own split between the rational and sensual. For when Clairchen begins to think, her head reverts back to its familiar form (128). Her search for a loving relationship with another person as an antidote to her identity problems is unsuccessful, for the concept of love has become perverted to mean coercion. For example, Clairchen's insatiable thirst for affection feeds on the emotions of others:

Sobald es ihr [Clairchen] gelungen war, einem Menschen, gleichgültig ob Mann oder Frau, Gefühle der Liebe zu entlocken, stürzte sie sich mit der gleichen werbenden Hartnäckigkeit, die eben noch dem einen gegolten hatte, auf einen anderen, um auch ihm einen Tropfen Liebe aus dem Leib zu saugen wie eine Mücke einen Tropfen Blut aus einem menschlichen Körper.


The above description of Clairchen's exploitative use of love foreshadows the later scene depicting the male poet's/vampire's feeding on women's suffering to obtain material for his poetry. In addition, Martha interprets Clairchen's suicide as her response to a loveless world and as evidence that “love” is another manipulative device:

Demzufolge seien die Gefühle liebender Europäer ein nicht entwirrbares Chaos aus Zuneigung, sadistischer Herrschsucht, masochistischer Unterwürfigkeit, und es läge nahe, daβ die so Liebenden sich zudem oft erpresserischer Methoden bedienten.


By having Rosalind use the subjunctive in reporting Martha's facile summation of Clairchen's troubled life, Maron also problematizes Martha's critique of the abusive nature of love. Not love itself, but the conditions under which love exists are the focus of criticism here. The narrative continues a tradition of women's writing, such as that described by Newton, which illustrates how women develop a power of ability. That power serves as an alternative to a love that exercises influence over others (771).

Rosalind's fantasies become increasingly surrealistic as her conformity becomes clearer and she begins to change. The bleeding bodies lying all over the streets, the memories of Clairchen's and Ida's demise and their unhappy love affairs, the end of Rosalind's relationship with Bruno, the dark, dank streets down which she wanders, all signify a moribund world, the world into which she was born and in which she is mentally trapped. The motif of disproportional heads and bodies, such as Clairchen's Garbo head or the little dog's German shepherd one, suggests further the schizophrenic condition of her public (officially sanctioned) and private identities. Yet it is possible to break out of this world.

The walls surrounding her, however, are also necessary for establishing a sense of identity. She considers the nature of walls until she feels that she can ascertain their functions:

Eine Wand, die in keiner Beziehung zu einer anderen Wand steht, ist eine Mauer. Ein System aus vier Wänden und einem Fuβboden, einzig nach oben mit einer Öffnung versehen, ist ein Loch. Ein Raum aus vier Wänden mit Decke, Fuβboden und einer Tür, die durch den Insassen des Raumes nicht zu öffnen ist, ist ein Gefängnis. Ein Raum mit Fenstern und einer Tür, die nach Belieben von beiden Seiten geöffnet und geschlossen werden kann, ist ein Zimmer. … Die Wände um Rosalind trennen sie von dem Nachbarn, vom Hausflur, vom Korridor und von der Straβe. Sie hält sie alle für unverzichtbar. Je länger sie ihre Wände betrachtet, um so sicherer wird sie in der Annahme, daβ Wände zu den wichtigsten Regulatoren des menschlichen Zusammenlebens gehören.


This passage expresses the need for a balanced relationship between control and movement, which is lacking in Rosalind's society. A room as defined in this passage would provide a necessary structure for physical and psychological freedom. Walls, or limitations, then, are not negative in themselves. Their relation to openings makes them tolerable or stifling. Rosalind longs to exchange her Gefängnis for a Zimmer. Oddly enough, theft is one means she sees for doing so, for she would like to take possession of a self that she relinquished at birth. Only by acting against the rules and conventions of her society, such as through stealing food and wine, can she gain access to suppressed aspects of herself, for example, the outrage she feels at being forced to tolerate unnecessarily long lines at a grocery store. She would in effect be reappropriating an identity that she lost the moment she was born into a world of repressive social relations, the moment when she began to die.

The extreme example of such identity loss is Rosalind's futuristic encounter with a clone during her daydreams. The notion that each person has a double, which the state can at any moment substitute for the original, shows the fragility of the human being in a system that controls technology. The clone, who looks like a man, uses fantasy to simulate living. Like Rosalind, he has learned “ganz und gar aus dem Geist zu existieren” (205). But unlike her he lives only to serve science. Here there is no possibility for the suppressed to take charge of their life. The clone has no desire to rebel, similar to Martha's earlier warning of such a fate in store for all who neglect their “useless” qualities (51). With no hope for the future and no comfort in her past, Rosalind continues her pursuit of an identity, but her will becomes stronger as she reviews her life of gradual surrender to the fear instilled by the authoritarian system in which she exists.

She crosses over, indeed puts her head through a wall in her imagination, and experiences the dissolution of her self. By using her head to break out, Rosalind reappropriates a part of herself that she had allowed to be infused with injunctions that kept her docile and ill. Her increasingly violent visions, such as of the struggles near the Berlin Wall, Martha's blood being sucked out by a vampire, and Ida's death, accompany her flight from herself. Her shedding of her old identity exposes a new creature radically different from the image of herself that she has been programmed to accept. It provokes guilt, and later horror. She reacts at first by searching for a cause for her unsettling thoughts and thereby seeks solace in her old pattern of logical reasoning. In the last Zwischenspiel, Rosalind hesitates as she imagines the Man in the Red Uniform accusing her of harboring aimless visions and almost allows her desires to be overcome by doubts—“Ich schweige noch immer, und obwohl ich mich dagegen zu wehren suche, schwindet meine Sicherheit, nicht schuldig zu sein” (177)—until an image of Clairchen dancing ballet to her heart's content, despite her lack of talent, strengthens her resolve to probe her private, “useless” longings further (179). But the more she analyzes her feelings, the more her internal system of control strives to suppress her. She envisions a couple approaching her to carry her away and is shocked to see herself in the figure of the woman: “Sie sah, sehr nah, ihr eigenes Gesicht; die kräftigen Finger, die schon nach ihr griffen, gehörten einer Frau, die ihr Gesicht trug” (210). She is cast further into confusion on her flight to the railway station, when she hears someone say “Der Bahnhof ist überall” (211) and recognizes the unfamiliar voice as her own. Encountering Martha at that point is the beginning of her recovery, for she gradually understands that Martha, like the other figures and voices, belongs to a part of herself that has eluded control.

The confusion of pronouns and narrative voice reflects Rosalind's separation from her traditional thought patterns as she identifies with Martha:

Eine Frau kommt auf mich zu. Ich spreche sie an und bitte sie, mir zu helfen. … Sie will vorübergehen, und in diesem Augenblick erkenne ich sie. Rosalind, sage ich, Rosalind Polkowski. Sie bleibt stehen. Ihre Augen suchen hilflos auf mir herum, bis endlich der erwartete Schrecken in ihnen aufglüht. Martha, bist du Martha, fragt sie. Statt mir aufzuhelfen, setzt sie sich neben mich und weint. Ich habe dich gesucht, sagt sie. Jetzt hast du mich gefunden, sage ich.


This is the first time that Rosalind takes on the narrative voice of another figure. By distancing herself from her previous form, she is able to shed the apprehensions that have prevented her from acknowledging her desires. As Rosalind and Martha merge, Rosalind as Martha registers the shock of seeing her former self: “Ihr Entsetzen widert mich an, obwohl ich gleichzeitig den Eindruck habe, ich selbst betrachte mich mit diesen erschrockenen Augen. Oder bin ich Rosalind; oder bin ich eine dritte” (213). She then assumes her Rosalind persona and surrenders to her sexual instincts with a male derelict (while Martha watches), reactivating in her mind her paralyzed body and abandoning her prudish sensibilities.

Ich lache, ich kreische wie ein Affenweibchen. Ich habe es satt, gewaschen und sauber gekleidet zwischen den Menschen umherzugehen. … Ich finde mich ekelhaft, so gefalle ich mir. Angelockt von meinen Schreien, kommt Billy. Wir wälzen uns auf dem harten Pflaster. … Mich gibt es nicht mehr, ich muβ nichts mehr fürchten. So schlafe ich ein.


The final meeting between Martha and Rosalind in the West, the incarnation of her most forbidden longings, leads to Rosalind's symbolic demise—and rebirth. After realizing her identity with Martha, she reassumes her form as Rosalind, but incorporates Martha. “Wir sind wieder allein, Martha und ich” (219). When she follows Martha into her room she is able to state “Das ist mein Zimmer” (220) because she has found a door out. While the narrative ends where it began, and Rosalind has not really changed her position outwardly, the question remains as to the function of fantasy in a repressive world. Without an outlet it is potentially self-destructive, and on a macro-level a society without creativity is stagnating or even decomposing. The lack of balance for those living in such a world could, according to the narrative, eventually result in brutal self-destruction. But that is only one possibility. A mixture of deeds and dreams, a flexible framework for the imaginary, provides a model for eroding the regulatory forces in society that have deadened its members. The “retreat” to the private sphere does not marginalize the creative individual from the collective. It provides a site for discarding paternalistic oppression and voicing unacknowledged desires.

By embracing her most fearsome dreams Rosalind is able to become a new person—just as she wished when a child. She is the one who creates herself anew, before an imaginary public. Fantasy has enabled her to overcome her status as mere object and become the agent of her own deeds. She has achieved a “power of ability” by withdrawing to a private place. In her solitude she restructures the story of her life so that it encompasses different forms of identity. By this time she has imagined herself calling for help at the sight of wounded people, rejecting her lover's condescension, accepting her own sensuality, and leaving her room. Without bothering to exert influence over others, she has acted to correct inequities in various situations. As she takes stock of herself and her surroundings once she has been able to accept her disparate selves, Rosalind reflects: “Da bin ich also wieder … eher belustigt als verwundert über die Einsicht, daβ ihre aufwendigen Bemühungen, sich vom Ausgangspunkt ihres Denkens zu entfernen, sie sicher an ihn zurückgeführt hatten” (220-21). In contrast to her earlier novel Flugasche, about which Sigrid Bostock asserts: “Ich-Form als auch innerer Monolog charakterisieren den auf sich selbst geworfenen, von der Gesellschaft isolierten und dadurch kommunikationslosen Menschen” (20), the switch between first-person and third-person narrator signals here a reflective process that enables the protagonist to reconnect herself to her environment, to her room, albeit as a new person.

But is she now able to take charge of her life? Is the “sensual,” “feminine” part of her more powerful than the authoritarian system that restrains her? It would appear that it has the potential to be. Suppression of fantasy increases the division between real and fantastical until the imaginary takes on a reality of its own. Rosalind can then imagine different roles for herself in this new “reality.” As a reaction to her suppression of the free play of her desires, her creative imagination floods over physical constraints to the point of destroying them, so that when Rosalind reenters her body and looks around, she sees herself in a room instead of a prison (220). She has found a way in and out. Yet it is uncertain how long she will remain in her present condition. For although her physical senses are beginning to function again, she notices that the room is even smaller but more distant from her, “[a]ls würde sie vom falschen Ende durch ein Fernglas sehen” (221). She is outgrowing it. But what kind of person is this who is about to hatch out?

Maron's protagonist may well be completely “mad” by the end of the narrative, but, as Rosalind recalls, “wenn die Welt irre ist, liegt im Irrsinn der Sinn” (29). Her irrational, “feminine” manner of thinking is incompatible with the society that Maron is criticizing, one that is still tainted by the paternalistic totalitarianism of the fascist system that it replaced. But the narrative presents a solution to the seemingly unending cycle of hyperrational tyranny over “useless” human attributes. Rather than imitating one's oppressors, as Rosalind had learned to do at work or as the clone demonstrates, Maron posits a commingling of private reflection and public action that engages creative, “human” potential. Maron thus rejects the hierarchy of public over private sphere that Jane Tompkins, for example, also designates as “a founding condition of female oppression” (1080). Maron's alienated woman figure has learned to embrace those aspects of her persona unsuited to a system centered on purpose and linear logic. By portraying a figure who imagines herself initiating a rebellion at, for example, the absurd circumstances in a grocery store, Maron opens possibilities for real action later on. She presents a biography that retraces the retardation of personal growth, and this biography is inscribed oppositionally within the history of social evolution advanced by the state. For Rosalind was stuck in the role of the child, representing her inferior position.8 Her mistaken search for her father in her lovers (22-23) and through her alter ego Martha, that is, for someone to guide her, prevented her from attaining adulthood.

In closing the circle of the narration, the narrative has arrived back at the beginning, and we know that this is also the signal for a repetition of the confusion of images that make up the inner narratives. There appears to be no closure in such a structure, no directional motion, no ventilation. It masks a destabilizing force that threatens to burst forth at any moment. And it exhibits the revolutionary nature of desire: “If desire is repressed, it is because every position of desire, no matter how small, is capable of calling into question the established order of a society” (Deleuze and Guattari 116). Rosalind has found a door out of her room, one that promises unlimited freedom of movement. The aperture leads further inside to an inarticulate profusion of desires that can transform her conformity into autonomy. Maron's social critique is an admonition to unseal the doors to emancipatory desires and creative action in order to overcome internalized, stultifying patterns of viewing the world. The narrative demonstrates a means for undermining the entombing effects of a totalitarian mindset and reworking enforced alienation into self-emancipation.


  1. See, for example, Craig (esp. 35-40) and Mews; for analyses of the debates surrounding the role of German intellectuals in foreseeing the opening of the Wall and their reactions to it, see, for example, the clusters of pertinent articles in New German Critique (Winter 1991), Women in German Yearbook 7 (1991), and German Studies Review (May 1991); see especially Bathrick.

  2. See also Betzner, who concludes that Rosalind speaks Eskimo to compete with the men for recognition. “Sie kämpft um ihren Platz im Symbolischen, da sie sich dadurch eine neue Identität verspricht, während sie ihren anderen Ort im Semiotischen verdrängt” (69).

  3. For a thorough discussion of Maron's novel as an example of women's writing, see Betzner. For more on Kristeva's concept of language, see Desire in Language, the essays in The Kristeva Reader, and the overview in Morris.

  4. Maron reveals in an interview that the working title of the book was Die Lähmung, “was Ausdruck der psychischen Lähmung sein sollte, weniger Kafka als ein Nachspüren allgemeiner Befindlichkeit” (Richter 4).

  5. See Shari Benstock's essay, in which she examines how certain women's autobiographies challenge the notion of a unified identity.

  6. It is a system that has created a country Maron later describes sarcastically as “ein Land mit einer maroden Wirtschaft, mit verwahrlosten öffentlichen Umgangsformen, mit Städten, deren Altbauviertel den Slums amerikanischer Städte immer ähnlicher werden, und mit einer Verlogenheit in den öffentlichen Verlautbarungen, die den Grad zur Lächerlichkeit längst überschritten hat” (“Warum?” 23).

  7. For a discussion of “women's language” and “men's language,” see Baym; Shoshana Felman also articulates the problem of a woman's discourse when she states: “If, in our culture, the woman is by definition associated with madness, her problem is how to break out of this (cultural) imposition of madness without taking up the critical and therapeutic positions of reason: how to avoid speaking both as mad and as not mad. The challenge facing the woman today is nothing less than to “re-invent” language, to re-learn how to speak: to speak not only against, but outside of the specular phallocentric structure, to establish a discourse the status of which would no longer be defined by the phallacy of masculine meaning” (152-53).

  8. See Vallance, who asserts: “Throughout Maron's work the central characters find themselves in situations of impotence vis-à-vis a fatherly authority” (62).

I would like to thank Jacqueline Vansant as well as the reviewers and editors of the Women in German Yearbook for their helpful comments concerning this essay.

Works Cited

Bathrick, David. “The End of the Wall before the End of the Wall.” German Studies Review 14 (May 1991): 297-311.

Baym, Nina. “The Madwoman and Her Languages: Why I Don't Do Feminist Literary Theory.” Feminisms. 154-67.

Beckermann, Thomas. “Die Diktatur repräsentiert das Abwesende nicht.” German Literature at a Time of Change 1989-1990: German Unity and German Identity in Literary Perspective. Ed. Arthur Williams et al. Frankfurt a.M.: Lang, 1991. 97-116.

Benstock, Shari. “Authorizing the Autobiographical.” Feminisms. 1040-57.

Betzner, Christine. “Mit dem Kopf durch die Wand: Monika Maron's Erzählung Die Überläuferin als Ausdruck weiblicher Schreibweise.” Master's Thesis, University of Oregon, 1992.

Bostock, Sigrid. “Ich- und Sie-Erzählung: Rede und Handlung in Monika Marons Roman Flugasche.Carleton Germanic Papers 18 (1990): 9-21.

Craig, Gordon A. “The Big Apfel.” The New York Review of Books 7 November 1991: 31-40.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983.

Felman, Shoshana. “Women and Madness: The Critical Phallacy.” The Feminist Reader: Essays in Gender and the Politics of Literary Criticism. Ed. Catherine Belsey and Jane Moore. New York: Blackwell, 1989. 133-53.

Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Ed. Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1991.

Foucault, Michel. “Preface.” Anti-Oedipus. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. xi-xiv.

Franke, Eckhard. “Monika Maron.” KLG-Textdienst 31 (1989): 1-6; A-D.

Hartmann, Horst. “Monika Maron: Die Überläuferin: Roman.L'80 41-43 (1987): 175-77.

Hauser, Kornelia. “Monika Maron: Die Überläuferin.Das Argument 169 (1988): 424-26.

Jung, Werner. “Die Anstrengung des Erinnerns.” Neue Deutsche Hefte 35 (1988): 96-104.

Kane, Martin. “Culpabilities of the Imagination: The Novels of Monika Maron.” Literature on the Threshold: The German Novel of the 1980's. Ed. Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes, and Roland Smith. Providence, RI: Berg, 1990.

Kristeva, Julia. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. Ed. Leon S. Roudiez. Trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia UP, 1980.

———. The Kristeva Reader. Ed. Toril Moi. New York: Columbia UP, 1986.

Mahlendorf, Ursula. “Der weiβe Rabe fliegt: Zum Künstlerinnenroman im 20. Jahrhundert.” Deutsche Literatur von Frauen. 2 vols. Ed. Gisela Brinker-Gabler. Munich: Beck, 1988. Vol. 2: 445-59.

Maron, Monika. “Die Schriftsteller und das Volk.” Der Spiegel 12 February 1990: 68-70; the essay was translated and reprinted as “Writers and the People” in New German Critique 18 (Winter 1991): 36-41.

———. Die Überläuferin. Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer Taschenbuch, 1988.

———. “‘Warum bin ich selbst gegangen?’” Der Spiegel 14 May 1990: 22-23.

Mews, Siegfried. “Political Boundaries and the Boundaries of Politics: The Berlin Wall in Recent Fiction.” Proceedings of the XIIth Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association, München 1988. Ed. Roger Bauer, Douwe Fokkema, and Michael de Graat. Munich: iudicium, 1990. 260-65.

Mitchell, Juliet. “‘Femininity, Narrative and Psychoanalysis.’” Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader. Ed. Mary Eagleton. New York: Blackwell, 1986. 100-03.

Morris, Pam. “Identities in Process: Poststructuralism, Julia Kristeva and Intertextuality.” Literature and Feminism: An Introduction. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1993.

Morshäuser, Bodo. Die Berliner Simulation. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1983.

Newton, Judith Lowder. “Power and the Ideology of ‘Woman's Sphere.’” Feminisms. 765-80.

Plenzdorf, Ulrich. kein runter kein fern. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1984.

Puhl, Widmar. “Eine läuft über: Monika Marons Roman.” Die Zeit 7 November 1986: Literaturbeilage 5.

Richter, Gerhard. “Verschüttete Kultur: Ein Gespräch mit Monika Maron.” GDR Bulletin 18 (Spring 1992): 2-7.

Schlesinger, Klaus. “Die Spaltung des Erwin Racholl.” Berliner Traum: Fünf Geschichten. Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1977.

Schmidt, Ricarda. “The Concept of Identity in Recent East and West German Women's Writing.” German Literature at a Time of Change 1989-1990: German Unity and German Identity in Literary Perspective. Ed. Arthur Williams et al. Frankfurt a.M.: Lang, 1991. 429-47.

Schneider, Peter. Der Mauerspringer. Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1982.

———. Paarungen. Berlin: Rowohlt, 1992.

Schubert, Helga. “Das verbotene Zimmer.” Das verbotene Zimmer: Geschichten. Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1982.

Stamer, Uwe. “Monika Maron—Die Überläuferin: Muβe zum Nachdenken.” Beiträge zur Literaturkritik. Ed. Uwe Stamer. Stuttgart: Heinz, 1989. 70-72.

Tompkins, Jane. “Me and My Shadow.” Feminisms. 1079-92.

Vallance, Margaret. “Monika Maron: Harbinger of Surrealism in the GDR?” GDR Monitor special series (1988/89): 57-64.

Warhol, Robyn R. Introduction. Feminisms. 761-64.

Walser, Martin. Dorle und Wolf: Eine Novelle. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1987.

Wolf, Christa. Der geteilte Himmel. Halle: Mitteldeutscher Verlag, 1963.

Erlis Glass-Wickersham (review date winter 1997)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 524

SOURCE: Glass-Wickersham, Erlis. Review of Animal Triste, by Monika Maron. World Literature Today 71, no. 1 (winter 1997): 137.

[In the following review, Glass-Wickersham praises Maron's prose in Animal Triste and compliments the novel for being “eminently accessible.”]

Monika Maron lived in the German Democratic Republic until 1988. She now resides in Berlin. Her earlier publications include three novels and a volume of essays in Fischer editions. Her participation in the activities of the Stasi (state-security service) during the post-Wall years has been widely discussed.

Maron's new novel has the interesting title Animal Triste. The work is about the human being as animal but also as spirit, about the aftereffects of sexual love but also the existential sadness of individuals and of an entire generation. It is a first-person narrative by a woman of uncertain age who has withdrawn from life, devoting herself to reliving a lost love affair, or each moment of the experience which she can recall. The novel is immeasurably more than a love story, however. It is about the effects of the two Germanies on the lives of the generation born during the war. It is also a commentary on feelings evoked by the changing face of Eastern Europe, its disruptive reconstruction, and its struggle for redefinition on both the individual and the collective level.

Replete with metaphors which never dominate but nevertheless frame the narrative, Maron's novel investigates the idea of time and memory, of transience and durability in the image of a dinosaur skeleton, for example, with which the woman and her married lover have a special relationship. This collection of old bones, most of them imitations fashioned to complete the form, is like many features of the narrative, such as the yellow construction cranes visible in every quarter of the constantly changing city of Berlin. The interpretive possibilities of this dinosaur skeleton and the narrator's professional as well as personal interest in it constitute a great strength of the book.

Animal Triste also investigates the kinds of relationships possible for mature couples whose lives are calcified into patterns that are difficult to disrupt. Perhaps tongue-in-cheek, the work justifies some traditionally illicit love affairs with the novel excuse that the isolation of the eastern part of Germany made impossible until recently any acquaintance between certain individuals. Since the narrator refuses to tell her story in verifiable terms, it reads like a mystery, and we cannot be certain whether the lover has left, has died, or even whether the narrator has murdered him.

Beyond its focus on the sacrifices made for love by women like the narrator, Maron's novel contains a small cast of interesting characters. There is a wonderful description of a trip to New York, and the use of South Hadley, Massachusetts, where the narrator has longed to view dinosaur footprints, is also effective. Animal Triste is not only eminently accessible, even to students of German, but is an affecting document as well, certainly a witness to the joy and sadness of love but also to the effects of political upheaval on generations which will never experience the continuity that many, especially but not only in the West, have taken for granted.

Andrea Reiter (essay date spring 1997)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4809

SOURCE: Reiter, Andrea. “Reunification and Literature: Monika Maron from Die Überläuferin to Stille Zeile Sechs.GDR Bulletin 24 (spring 1997): 67-72.

[In the following essay, Reiter offers a comparative study of the narrative presentation, intertextual perspective, and evolving political consciousness of Maron's characters in Die Überläuferin and Stille Zeile Sechs, particularly how they reflect changing circumstances surrounding the reunification of Germany and Maron's effort to reconcile conflicting aspects of dissidence, passivity, and complicity.]

In 1968 Dieter Wellershoff published his essay “Fiktion und Praxis” as a contribution to the discussion of whether literature should be politically engaged. In particular his essay was designed as a reply to, or corrective of, Hans Magnus Enzensberger's view that literature can never change society: rather, at its worst, it disguises social conflicts. Literature, Enzensberger held then, was harmless, an excuse for its producers not to become directly involved in political discussion.1 Wellershoff denounces Enzensberger's misconception that the socially engaged and the more autonomous type of literature are mutually exclusive. In Wellershoff's view they are just two extremes in current literary production. Approaching literature in terms of its function he describes it as a technique of simulation (“Simulationstechnik”). Like the astronauts who prepare their journey into space in the safety of specially constructed training conditions, so literature “ist ein der Lebenspraxis beigeordneter Simulationsraum, Spielfeld für ein fiktives Handeln, in dem man als Autor und als Leser die Grenzen seiner praktischen Erfahrungen und Routinen überschreitet, ohne ein wirkliches Risiko dabei einzugehen.”2 This technique of simulation allows both the writer and the reader to enter into new forms of behavior and thinking and to enhance their experience. The experimental situation sets the author free to invent something new rather than having to be content with what is already there. Thus scientific advances, especially in psychology since Freud and in physics since Einstein and Heisenberg, have not only revolutionized our perception of the world but are reflected in new literary techniques which are designed to make us aware of what is going on.

While Wellershoff's aim is to defend literature against the claims that it should be explicitly politically useful, his heuristics of writing as an experiment in alternative styles of living can also be applied to other literary texts. Hardly any writer up to the present has created such memorable experimental situations as Franz Kafka, most notably in Die Verwandlung where he studies the impact on the protagonist Gregor and his family of a metaphor coming true. Monika Maron, born while bombs were falling on Berlin and brought up in the eastern part of the city, chooses a similar starting point in her second novel Die Überläuferin,3 which was published in 1986. What makes her attempt at close experimental observation so interesting is that she presents the same characters in a second novel set in the same period, Stille Zeile Sechs,4 published in 1991. However, by altering the conditions of the experiment slightly, she achieves a radically different result. In a comparison of these two novels, whose publication dates are only five years apart, it will become obvious how both experiments are closely linked to the historical situation in which they were carried out.

Rosalind Polkowski is the protagonist in both novels. She is a 42-year-old historian who for the past 15 years has worked for an academic institute in Berlin, the Barabas'sche Forschungsstätte, Barabas being the name of the person in charge. In Die Überläuferin she wakes up one morning to discover that she cannot use her legs any more. Disabled, she is confined to her room, which turns into a kind of cell. She has no contact with the outside world. Even her former boss fails to inquire after her, a fact which intensifies the atmosphere of total social isolation, in stark contrast to her previous working days. These had been extremely regimented, monotonous and predictable, Rosalind's life being entirely usurped by the institution. As in Kafka's story, Rosalind's sudden disability can be interpreted as the expression of what is going on inside her. Slaving for a government office has crippled her soul. But now her handicap, which forces her to give up the life she has hitherto led, is also a form of protest. Significantly it is a silent protest, a retreat into the private sphere of daydreaming and recollection.

When Rosalind reappears in Stille Zeile Sechs, without having aged and just after having left the Barabas'sche Forschungsstätte, she has changed considerably. Most importantly, she has resigned from her post of her own accord, without being forced to do so by a mysterious blow of fate. One day she decided that she did not want to be paid for thinking (intellectual work) anymore, as she had been while working as a historian. This conscious decision is followed not by daydreaming but by an attempt to catch up with some aspects of life that she had been forced to neglect due to the burden of her job. In other words, the alternative life Rosalind is seeking no longer lies in solipsistic retreat. On the contrary, she is eager to learn what is going on around her. When she tries to find out why no German translation of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni has done the piece justice, she is involuntarily put in touch with her personal past. Agreeing to write down the memoirs of a former high-ranking party member, Beerenbaum, whose right arm has been paralyzed by a stroke, she becomes increasingly aware of how he represents the people who have stolen her life. She realizes too that nothing has changed for these people: they live in fashionable neighborhoods, receive preferred treatment in hospitals and, when they die, get a state funeral and a grave in a reserved section of the cemetery. Nor do they seem to regret what they have done. On the contrary, old age has made them frail, allowing them to claim the status of victims.

Although Rosalind's decision to quit her job leads to her acquaintance with Beerenbaum, it is not of the same importance as in Die Überläuferin, where it is mentioned right at the beginning (Ü [Die Überläuferin,] 19). Stille Zeile Sechs, by contrast, starts at the end of the story—Beerenbaum's funeral. What has happened between Rosalind's leaving the Barabas'sche Forschungsstätte (SZ [Stille Zeile Sechs,] 18) and the funeral is then told in an analytical fashion.

The different arrangement of the experiment affects the narrative styles of the two novels. Whereas Rosalind's unexplained paralysis in Die Überläuferin corresponds to the surrealism of the narration that follows, the consequences of her self-denial in Stille Zeile Sechs are described in a realistic, though not chronological, form. Several different stories are combined: Rosalind's, Beerenbaum's, Thekla Fleischer's and that of Rosalind's former boyfriend Bruno and his drinking companion, the “Count.”

Surrealism, which allows dreams and fantasies to assume the same status in a narrative as the telling of facts, became popular in GDR literature around 1970, especially with Irmtraud Morgner's books, and in advance of the big move towards literary modernism following the expulsion of Wolf Biermann in 1976.5 Maron's novel thus comes as a late example of this movement, to which Christa Wolf's Nachdenken über Christa T. (1969) und Kein Ort. Nirgends (1979) also belong. It coincides with the new strand of GDR literary modernism expressed in Wolf's Kassandra (1983), which is dominated by a pessimistic view of the failure of the Enlightenment, and by end-of-the-world feelings and consciousness of catastrophe.

As in West-German literature, GDR literary periods, if they can be regarded as such, have never been homogeneous:6 at almost any time within the 40-year existence of the second German state its literature was characterized by both modernity and anti-modernity. Only the weighting varied. It is therefore hardly surprising that there were also different strands within modernism itself.

The surrealism of Die Überläuferin expresses itself not only in a conglomerate of different kinds of texts: dreams, fantasies, reports, dialogues and, not least, four Zwischenspiele, or interludes, that originate in Rosalind's mind and present caricatures of various types in GDR society passing judgment on her. Also surrealistic is the merging of the spheres of the conscious and the unconscious, of the actual and the virtual. Constant shift of narrative perspective and the uncertain identity of the characters—Martha turns out to be Rosalind's alter ego, many of the minor characters come out of the blue and disappear again without leaving any trace—create an impression of utter vagueness.

The situation is quite different in Stille Zeile Sechs. Here we find consistent first person narration. The only significant exception is the scene in which Rosalind cross-examines Beerenbaum about his past and especially about his part in destroying the career of one of his subordinates. Here the shift to third person narration marks the climax of the story. Rosalind breaks with her resolution not to use her head in working for Beerenbaum. His life, the account of which she agreed to write down for him, and all the other lives that his stands for, have interfered too much with her own for her to remain now the detached scholar that she had intended to be. The shift in narrative perspective thus indicates the highly emotionalized atmosphere that holds Rosalind in its grip even as she is writing about it:

Ich weiβ es so genau, als hätte ich diese Minuten zweifach erlebt, als Zuschauerin und als Akteurin. Und eigentlich war ich sogar dreifach dabei, denn auch als Akteurin war ich geteilt, in eine, die etwas tat, und eine andere, die etwas zu tun wünschte. Ich weiβ alles, nichts ist mir entgangen. Das macht das Erinnern so schwer.

(SZ 204-205)

The function of third person narration here is not—as in Die Überläuferin—to express vagueness but rather the opposite: to give a clearer mimetic picture of what really happened:

Ich sehe sie vor mir, Beerenbaum und Rosalind. Er hinter dem Schreibtisch, gefangen im gelben Licht der Tischlampe. Sie ihm gegenüber, zwei Schritte entfernt, verschanzt hinter der Schreibmaschine Marke “Rheinmetall.”

Während ich noch schwankte, ob die Gerechtigkeit mir Rache für den Grafen oder Rücksicht auf den kranken Beerenbaum gebot, sah ich, daβ Rosalind sich schon entschieden hatte … Rosalind verhörte ihn.

(SZ 205)

The shift in narrative perspective at this point is sufficiently motivated and justified by the logic of the narrative to underline rather than jeopardize its realism.

The similarities of certain details in the two novels are so striking that they can hardly be overlooked. Apart from Rosalind, there are her former boyfriend Bruno and the Count. Both had a bourgeois upbringing and received a profound academic and cultural education, placing them in opposition to the nonintellectual, even anti-intellectual party doctrine. Representing the group of the “Lateiner”—a metonymy for intellectuals—they lead the dissent in the pub rather than taking positive action like Rosalind. Although Maron claims “Ich habe mich nie als Feministin verstanden” (“E” [“Ich war ein antifaschistisches Kind”] 110), she addresses feminist issues in the difference between the female protagonist and her male counterparts. Both novels show the men merely talking, mainly under the influence of alcohol, whereas the women act, if only in their minds (like Rosalind in Die Überläuferin). Bruno's contempt for Rosalind's lack of general knowledge, moreover, reflects the attitude that Maron sees in Heinrich von Kleist's “Nach Maβgabe Deiner Begreifungskraft.”7 In her acceptance speech for the Kleist-Preis awarded for Stille Zeile Sechs Maron points to Kleist's patronizing explanation of a foreign term in a letter to his fiancée. For Maron, this sums up men's attitude towards women.

Close intertextual links have been a hallmark of Maron's work from the beginning. Again this is most obvious in her characters. The Clairchen of Die Überläuferin, a fairly fat little person who ends up finding her unfulfilled love in a tree—she hangs herself—has turned up already in an early play called Ada und Evald (1984). In Stille Zeile Sechs Thekla Fleischer reincarnates Clairchen. In the interim she has lost her Berliner Schnauze but found her love in a well-preserved septuagenarian named Solow, to whom she is “married” by Bruno in a desolate cemetery chapel.

Each subsequent text opens up the horizon a bit more on individual characters. In Stille Zeile Sechs not only do we learn about the family backgrounds of Bruno and the Count, whose name is actually Karl-Heinz Baron (SZ 65), but even the Count's more recent past is elucidated. It becomes clear that his three-year imprisonment in the early 1960s was inflicted personally by Beerenbaum, who was then his superior. As an internationally renowned sinologist, Baron (based on a real person8) had helped a colleague who defected to the West smuggle an academic manuscript out of the GDR.

It is, however, mainly Rosalind whom we get to know better as a person. In Die Überläuferin we learn that her lack of will to live goes back to her traumatic birth between two air raids. In a scene reminiscent of the birth of another postwar literary character, Oscar Matzerath in Günter Grass's novel Die Blechtrommel, Maron invests baby Rosalind at the moment of delivery with a similar faculty of reasoning and determination. We also read that both her parents were ardent communists who were hastily qualified as teachers in order to build the new antifascist alternative German state. But only in Stille Zeile Sechs does it become clear how problematic Rosalind's relationships were, in particular with her father. Even as a teenager she could no longer accept the inconsistencies within socialist ideology and frequently cornered him about them, albeit to no avail. Eventually, she lost touch with him: he seemed to dread having his ideals shattered and his life destroyed along with his ideology. The priority of ideology and the lack of love and consideration for the individual within the family reappears on the level of society and state. Thus Beerenbaum, the party representative, can become the reincarnate father. What Rosalind failed to do with her real father she achieves with Beerenbaum. References to the link between the two abound. In place of her father Rosalind makes Beerenbaum answer for the lack of freedom in her own life. What is significant about the historical details given is the shift of emphasis: while in Die Überläuferin the focus remains on the transition from Nazi ideology to a socialist society—the dominant and haunting image being that of war and destruction—Stille Zeile Sechs is contained within the GDR and refers to crimes committed by its regime.

Not only does Stille Zeile Sechs offer more information about the characters, here Rosalind herself has also gained more insight into the mechanisms of society. This enables her to interpret her work in Barabas's institute more succinctly, as a comparison of the following two relevant passages demonstrates. In Die Überläuferin Rosalind thinks about her work in purely personal terms:

… Siegfried Barabas, Vorstand jener historischen Forschungsstätte, der Rosalind vor fünfzehn Jahren als Absolventin zugeteilt worden war und in der sie seitdem, wenn nicht Wochenenden, staatliche Feiertage, Urlaub oder Krankheit sie davon befreiten, um sieben Uhr fünfundvierzig eines jeden Tages zu erscheinen und bis siebzehn Uhr eines jeden Tages zu verbleiben hatte.

(Ü 10)

… Barabas' neuerliche Änderungswünsche an ihrem letzten Aufsatz. Dann ihr Zimmer, acht Quadratmeter, ab sechzehn Uhr Sonne, Zeitschriften, Karteikarten, die vernagelte Spree, die Schreibmaschine, die Zöllner auf dem Weg zur Arbeit, von der Arbeit, die Hunde, von denen man sagte, sie seien blut- und rauschgiftsüchtig, das jeden Tag.


Although the description creates the atmosphere of a factory worker standing at an assembly line, thus expressing a feeling of utter depersonalization, the impact the experience has on Rosalind as a human being is expressed only in the subsequent novel, where the situation is analyzed in political terms:

Sie, Kollegin Polkowski, haben wir für die Entwicklung der proletarischen Bewegungen in Sachsen und Thüringen vorgesehen, hatte Barabas gesagt, als ich ihm vor fünfzehn Jahren zum ersten Mal an seinem Schreibtisch gegenübersaβ. So war es: Nicht mir wurde das Sachgebiet zugeteilt, sondern ich dem Sachgebiet und auch dem Zimmer. Stürbe ich, würde es das Sachgebiet und das Zimmer immer noch geben, so wie es sie vor mir gegeben hatte; ein anderer würde ihnen zugeteilt werden, der, wie ich, die einzige Fähigkeit, die ihn von einer Katze unterschied, die Gabe des abstrakten Denkens, an einem kleinen Sachgebiet verschleiβen würde, um von dem Geld, das er dafür bekäme, sein kreatürliches, von einem Katzendasein wenig unterschiedenes Überleben zu sichern.

(SZ 22)

It is this deeper insight that Rosalind gains from pondering her work situation that makes her quit her job. The justification for the step, however, has already been formulated in Die Überläuferin: there Martha is quoted as saying: “Es ist pervers, für Geld zu denken … wahrscheinlich sogar verboten” (Ü 44).

The development of Maron's ideas is laid out before the reader in another example. Both novels, but in particular Stille Zeile Sechs, try to find out whether action necessarily leads to guilt and, if that is the case, whether it would not be preferable to remain passive. In Die Überläuferin Georg, a male character who is more in harmony with Rosalind than other men, accuses her of just that: “Du hast dich zurückgezogen auf die sichere Geste der Untat. Hörst du das Wort: Untat. Weiβt du, was das ist, keine Tat oder die böse Tat, oder ist keine Tat die böse Tat” (Ü 47). The reinterpretation of “Untat” in this challenge of Georg's equates the lack of action with an evil action.

In Stille Zeile Sechs the question of action runs through the novel so persistently that certain jobs are said to manifest themselves in the physique of men. Rosalind suggests a distinction between a natural and an unnatural double chin, where the latter is caused without fail by particularly unnatural occupations, which are reserved for men, such as military service (SZ 90f). Soldiers, like other men in uniforms, receive their peculiar facial features while exercising their duty:

Ihre Arbeit verlangte, daβ sie fortwährend das Kinn gegen die Brust preβten, als müβten sie den ganzen Tag lang auf ihre Fuβspitzen gucken. Hätten sie dabei demütig Schultern und Nacken gebeugt, wäre ihnen nichts geschehen. Da ihre Körper aber zugleich als Symbole der staatlichen Autorität zu dienen hatten, muβten sie, allen anatomischen Geboten zuwider, auf herrisch gespreizten Beinen den Bauch und die Brust vorwölben und darüber den Kopf rechtwinkelig beugen, was selbst bei dünnen Menschen eine Wulst zwischen Kinn und Hals zusammenschob, die, bei dauerhaftem Verharren in dieser Pose, langsam zu einem unnatürlichen Doppelkinn erstarrte.

(SZ 92)

This is the ironic side of action. In fact, Stille Zeile Sechs is the novel about a more serious Täter—Beerenbaum—who, like other retired party and government officials responsible for the loss of 16 million people's biographies (Ü 51), claims in his old age the status of frail victim. This time, however, Rosalind chooses to act, although she is still not quite sure. Since reading Ernst Toller she, too asks: “Muβ der Handelnde schuldig werden, immer und immer? Oder, wenn er nicht schuldig werden will, untergehen?” (SZ 41). Not only is the resolution not “to think for money” rooted in this quasi-alternative but her work for Beerenbaum soon makes her realize that she cannot detach herself from what she does even if she is just trying, quite literally, to serve as a typewriter. Her situation is different, too, from that of her aunt Ida, who—in a rather roundabout way—may have committed a crime when she bought dolls dressed in the Thuringian national costume for the Gesellschaft zur Verständigung aller Völker (SZ 119). Compared to Ida's guilt, the social mechanism of which is laid out in a highly ironic way, Rosalind's seems just as unlikely though more real. In the end the question remains: did she kill Beerenbaum by insisting that he answer sensitive questions about his past at a time when he was already in a frail condition? Beerenbaum's son and his domestic help certainly seem to think so. In any event, Rosalind shares with her creator the sense of the inevitable failure of action. In a 1988/89 essay on Ernst Toller, Maron writes: “Die Ahnung von der Vergeblichkeit allen Tuns und dem lebenslangen Versuch, diese Ahnung zu widerlegen, waren es, die Tollers Leben mir zum ermutigenden, wenn auch tragischen Gleichnis werden lieβen” (“E” 62). The experimental situation that Maron creates in Stille Zeile Sechs proves Toller right: Rosalind decides not to lend her intellect to an institute controlled by the party, but does so only to take up work for one of its former officials and be accused of causing his death.

To appreciate the difference between the two experiments one has to bear in mind that both novels are set at the same time—1985; the date can be reconstructed from the biography of the Count (Ü 179f). The Cold War could still be felt, if not to the extent of previous years. In fact, between politicians of the Federal Republic and of the GDR a mutual acceptance began as the new modus vivendi. Invitations were exchanged, and meetings took place. Culturally, too, the process of opening was under way in the East. Western hope for an arrangement with “real existing socialism,” and Eastern dreams of the possibility of reforming socialism, left no room for considerations that the Wall might come down imminently, let alone that the two Germanies might reunite.

While Die Überläuferin was both set and written in this political and cultural atmosphere, Stille Zeile Sechs only shares the narrated time with its predecessor.9 It is well known now that Michail Gorbachev, then president of the Soviet Union, introduced the thaw in the Eastern Bloc through his policies of perestroika and glasnost. Even Maron, who was then still living in East Berlin, could not help being impressed (B [Trotzdem herzliche Grüβe] 40-42, 18.9.1987). Less than six months later, however, the events following the dissolution of the Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht peace demonstrations in East Berlin finally broke Maron's resistance to leaving the GDR for the West. In November 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and the peaceful revolution led to the Anschluβ of East Germany.

These events took place while Maron was working on Stille Zeile Sechs. In what way did they influence the setting of the experiment? Maron admired her fellow citizens for their newly acquired civil disobedience based on the individual's will to decide her/his own life. She had hoped for it as a consequence of Gorbachev's policies in the Soviet Union:

Und da sehe ich, daβ in den Leuten die Lust wächst zu widersprechen, sogar zu widerstehen. Versammlungen werden aus den Fugen der Tagesordnung gebrochen (mancherorts finden darum auch keine mehr statt), das Wort Zivilcourage scheint wieder einen Sinn zu bekommen und ist öfter zu hören; es ist wieder möglich geworden, an Veränderungen zu denken, auch wenn davon kaum etwas zu spüren ist.

(B 41, 18.9.1987)

Without this newly gained self-confidence, Rosalind's decision to quit her job and to single-handedly seek vengeance for her stolen biography (together with that of her friend) is hardly imaginable. The starting point of the experiment is not compatible with the time in which it is set, when fate reigned instead of self-determination, and dreams had to stand in for action. Yet a closer look reveals that the historical events are reflected in Stille Zeile Sechs only in an eclectic way: while Maron takes on board the early slogan of the marching crowds “Wir sind das Volk,” she neglects its more nationalistic successor “Wir sind ein Volk.” Thus the whole issue of reunification is absent from this fictional work. This, however, is due to the relative delay with which topical issues can be treated in fiction. In newspaper essays Maron has made clear her views on the “Psychology of Unified Germany.”10

The focus on recent GDR history and its political criminals in Stille Zeile Sechs would not have been possible, either, without the historical changes that occurred during the time the novel was being written. This also applies to the interconnectedness of family and political history demonstrated in the novel. In taking revenge on Beerenbaum, Rosalind in a Freudian fashion also makes up for what she had failed to do with her own father, a fact that assimilates the novel to the genre of the so-called Väterliteratur fashionable in the West in the 1980s. It is evident that Maron has used autobiographical material here, since her stepfather, Karl Maron, was GDR Minister of the Interior from 1955-1963. Her family background was reflected in 1989 in her acclaimed essay “Ich war ein antifaschistisches Kind,” which reconstructs her passage from a socialist upbringing to becoming disenchanted with the regime and to her eventual dissent even at the price of causing a rift between herself and her mother (“E” 9-28). At the threat of a new freeze in GDR politics, with tougher sanctions against dissidents, escape into dreams was no longer a valid response. It was Maron herself who ended her situation as Geisterautorin11 (B 116)—which, incidentally, was not the same as a “ghost writer” but denoted someone who lived in the former GDR but published exclusively in the West, thus having no physical existence in the Federal Republic and no official status as a writer in the East. Maron has never looked for compromises. The story of Josefa Nadler, the protagonist of Flugasche,12 who preferred to leave her secure job rather than not publish a report critical of an environmentally hazardous factory, could as well have been Maron's own. None of her works was ever published in the GDR. When the Aufbau Verlag finally decided to print Flugasche, almost 10 years after it had first appeared, it was forced to drop it again in direct response to Maron's outspoken political criticism in her exchange of letters with the West German writer Joseph von Westphalen.

Maron shares this reluctance to make compromises with her (female) characters. She never wrote what a West German journalist has called “Gesinnungsästhetik,” nor was she forced to justify her actions later on. When, during the summer of 1995, the Spiegel published an article that meant to disclose Maron's Stasi-connections between 1976 and 1978, it could not prove conclusively that she had harmed anybody.13 Having only agreed to report on the “enemy” in the West and not on her own dissident friends in East Berlin, Maron moreover wrote an essay report for the Stasi which compared life in the East in extremely unfavorable terms with that in the West. She does not seem to have been criminally involved with the Ministry of Security in the former GDR. Nor did she need to produce Rechtfertigungsprosa, unlike some of her more flamboyant colleagues such as Christa Wolf in Was bleibt (1990) or Heiner Müller in his autobiography Krieg ohne Schlacht (1992). Her stance as a moral authority nevertheless received a blow as, like other former informants, she did not reveal her Stasi-connection until she was found out. When she explained her actions in an essay in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, she pointed to the humiliating practice of self-accusation she had experienced as a 12-year old school girl.14 The excitement about Maron's Stasi-past, fueled in particular by Der Spiegel, has since subsided. It is hoped that her next book will restore her reputation as an important, uncompromising, if not very loud voice in the literary and political discourse in united Germany.


  1. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, “Gemeinplätze, die Neueste Literatur betreffend,” Kursbuch 15 (November 1968): 187-197.

  2. Dieter Wellershoff, “Fiktion und Praxis,” Wahrnehmung und Phantasie. Essays zur Literatur (Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1987) 11-29, esp. 21.

  3. Frankfurt am Main Fischer, 1986 (= Ü).

  4. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1991 (= SZ).

  5. See Wolfgang Emmerich, “Gleichzeitigkeit. Vormoderne, Moderne und Postmoderne in der Literatur der DDR,” Bestandsaufnahme Gegenwartsliteratur. Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Deutsche Demokratische Republik, Österreich, Schweiz, ed. Heinz Ludwig Arnold (München: Edition Text und Kritik, 1988) 193-211, esp. 206.

  6. See Emmerich.

  7. See Monika Maron, “Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft,” Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1993) 103-111.

  8. See Monika Maron/Joseph von Westphalen, Trotzdem herzliche Grüβe. Ein deutsch-deutscher Briefwechsel Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1988) (= B). See also: Andrea Reiter, “A German-German Correspondence,” German Literature at a Time of Change 1989-1990: German Unity and German Identity in Literary Perspective, ed. Arthur Williams et al. (Bern, New York: Peter Lang, 1991) 321-338.

  9. Harald Weinrich, Tempus. Besprochene und erzählte Welt (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1985).

  10. See, for example, “Guter Westmensch, trauriger Ostmensch und andere,” Frankfurter Allgmeine Zeitung 270 (20. Nov. 1993).

  11. Geisterautorin is a better term than innere Emigrantin which Westphalen used in his final letter (B 109), because this the latter term is laden with too many specific historical connotations.

  12. Frankfurt am Main, 1981.

  13. “Stasi Deckname ‘Mitsu’” Der Spiegel (7. Aug. 1995): 146-149.

  14. Monika Maron, “Heuchelei und Niedertracht,” Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung 14. Oct. 1995.

Alison Lewis (essay date winter 1998)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10287

SOURCE: Lewis, Alison. “Re-Membering the Barbarian: Memory and Repression in Monika Maron's Animal Triste.German Quarterly 71, no. 1 (winter 1998): 30-46.

[In the following essay, Lewis explores the historical, political, and psychoanalytic underpinnings of Animal Triste, drawing attention to the novel's interrelated themes of obsessive love and abandonment, the excavation of repressed memory, and questions of guilt and redemption as they reflect the reality of German reunification and revelations of Maron's Stasi complicity.]

When in 1996 Marcel Reich-Ranicki acclaimed Animal Triste, the latest novel by Monika Maron, as the stroke of genius of an author who has finally found “her topic,” “der Liebe Fluch und Segen,” his praise, although by no means misplaced, seemed premised on curious assumptions.1 In her earlier works, he argued, Maron was too preoccupied fighting communism to have approached the topic of love: her spirited critique of the communist system in which she grew up was thus seen to “repress all other motives” (verdrängte alle anderen Motive), causing her to steer clear of love and eroticism until, according to Reich-Ranicki, she felt “up to it” (bis sie sich ihm gewachsen fühlte […]).2 Politics and history—even those of her “Heimat”—thus served to distract her from her true calling: the realm of love. Her natural affinities with romantic love, he implies, remained repressed during communist rule only to resurface with its end.

Reich-Ranicki is certainly right to underscore the interconnections between the end of communism, the theme of love, and repression. It would be misleading, however, to see love as in some way displacing the concerns of history and politics or as effecting a clean break with the past. In the love affair that develops between the two protagonists, the paleontologist from East Berlin and her lover Franz, an hymenopterologist from Ulm, the past looms larger than life. For the couple, in particular the female narrator, the end of communism holds out the promise of redemption through love; and love promises initially to liberate from the burden of the past. However, love cannot surmount history and politics, as Reich-Ranicki hopes; the love affair cannot simply undo repression since it is inextricably intertwined with it: with repression in the past and of the past. If Maron's discovery of the theme of love marks the return of the repressed, as Reich-Ranicki's interpretation suggests, then its reappearance in the present necessarily brings with it a repetition of the past. Memories of the past cast a long shadow over the present, eventually returning to haunt the couple; the past, both as familial, personal history and as the shared but very different histories of the Federal Republic and the German Democratic Republic, is very much present. Thus in the same way that the new Germany is haunted by the specter of the GDR as its “precivilized,” archaic prehistory, the happiness of the two lovers too is punctuated and finally destroyed by the return of the repressed in the irreconcilable legacies from their radically different pasts.

Animal Triste3 starts where Stille Zeile Sechs4 leaves off: with the search for the meaning of life after the death of communism. In Stille Zeile Sechs Rosa remarks that she would only experience true freedom with the passing of communism's founding fathers: “In dieser Minute begriff ich, daβ alles von Beerenbaums Tod abhing, von seinem und dem seiner Generation. Erst wenn ihr Werk niemand mehr heilig war … würde ich herausfinden, was ich im Leben gern getan hätte” (SZ6 [Stille Zeile Sechs] 154-55). Rosa's sober realization, however, that the discovery of “das eigentliche Leben”5 may come too late hangs like an ill omen over the subsequent book.

In Animal Triste the narrator, who remains nameless, resolves to live her life as “eine nicht endende, ununterbrochene Liebesgeschichte” (AT [Animal Triste] 13). After a semi-mystical near-death experience when somebody—“ich weiβ nicht wer”—turns off the electricity in her brain, she chooses to see in the simulation of her death a “Zeichen,” a good omen, to reorient her life. She construes the sudden and inexplicable loss of consciousness as a chance for a new beginning and decides to live her life according to the maxim: “Man kann im Leben nichts versäumen als die Liebe” (AT 23). A year later, she meets Franz under the brachiosaurus in the Natural History Museum in East Berlin where she works; the encounter is described as more the work of fate than design: “Ich habe ihn nicht gesucht, und ich habe ihn nicht erwartet” (AT 23-24). An illicit affair ensues that lasts something between one, two and five years, which ends one night in autumn, some forty or fifty years previously, when Franz leaves her, never to return.

The story is narrated from an unspecified point in the distant future. The narrator professes to be nearing a hundred years old, although she is possibly younger, her life seemingly unchanged since that memorable night in autumn when she resolved, “den Episoden meines Lebens keine mehr hinzuzufügen” (AT 10). Indeed, she appears to be frozen in time and space, only her aging body registering the ravages of time passing. Having smashed all the mirrors in her flat in a gesture symbolic of her rejection of patriarchal society, she lives the life of a recluse, waiting for Franz's return.

The narrator's discovery of the power of love in her middle years coincides with the end of the “seltsame Zeit” in which she lived and the collapse of the “Bandenherrschaft,” an absurd and despotic time in which “eine […] als internationale Freiheitsbewegung getarnte […] Gangsterbande” (AT 30) conquered the entire eastern European mainland, dividing Germany and Berlin. Her affair with Franz forces, as does the end of the “Freiheitsbande,” a radical reorientation of all co-ordinates. The narrator leaves her husband of twenty years, although it is possible he left her, as well as a daughter whose current whereabouts are unknown.

The end of oppressive rule functions like a cue for everyone to set out in pursuit of happiness, forgotten dreams and wish-fulfillment, “als das Signal, auf das [jeder] insgeheim gehofft hatte” (AT 98). Historical change acts on a personal level as a catalyst, and it is in relationships that the effects of the end of the “time of unfreedom” are most apparent: new couples are formed and old relationships of convenience are sacrificed for newer affairs of the heart. It was, remarks the narrator, “Als lebten wir alle erst seit einem Jahr” (AT 51).

So overpowering is the narrator's encounter with Franz, so cataclysmic is the affair that follows, that is must necessarily place everything in its shadow. For her it marks the single most important moment in her life, the telos that gives all previous endeavor meaning and all future strivings an origin, a pre-history and a sense of chronology. Even the history of her country pales in the face of her belated discovery of the power of love:

Nachträglich scheint es mir, als ergäbe mein ganzes Leben vom Tag meiner Geburt an nur einen Sinn, wenn ich es als ein einziges Warten auf Franz verstehe. Manchmal glaube ich sogar, daβ auch die Mauer in Berlin nur eingerissen wurde, damit Franz mich endlich finden konnte.

(AT 51)

The narrator is determined to make out of her affair with Franz not a mere “Ehepaar fürs Leben” but “eine Liebe auf Leben und Tod” (AT 93), an extraordinary archetypal love story that bears no comparison to all other loves, past or future. Franz is her “späte Jugendliebe,” the childhood sweetheart she, in contrast to Franz, was denied; she seems sure that there were lovers before Franz but she cannot recall them. A childhood love, however, she realizes later in the novel, is unique in that it cannot be repeated; it is “das Unvergleichliche” (AT 91), by nature radical and pure difference, that irreducible experience that does not have its origins in disappointment or loss, or the need to compensate for it. It is the myth of pure origin, desire as plenitude rather than lack: “Sie ist einzig um ihrer selbst willen da. Sie muβ noch keine Enttäuschung überwinden, kein vorheriges Glück übertreffen, nichts widerlegen, nichts korrigieren, nichts ersetzen” (AT 91).

The affair, however, which starts with a chance meeting under the brachiosaurus, does not prove to be the repetition of the childhood love she never had. Despite its auspicious beginnings, it is born under the sign of lack and is overshadowed by the lack in the past and her professed lack or disavowal of a past. Franz does not prove to be the incomparable love of youth but a substitute for the brachiosaurus, the focus of all her longings and hopes before the end of the “freedom gang”: “ich liebte, ehe ich Franz traf, den ewigen Brachiosaurus” (AT 110). Franz is, as one critic suggests, a “Fehlbesetzung,” a miscasting, like all attempts to render utopias concrete.6 It is in Franz that she now seeks redemption and consolation: “Trost … für alles, was ich versäumt hatte” (AT 53). Rather than fulfill her dream of traveling to see the famous ancient bird-like footsteps in Pliny Moody's garden in South Hadley, Massachusetts, which she defers indefinitely, she meets Franz instead.

Indeed, Franz is the incarnation of a pre-existing imago, an object of desire she had always known. He is arguably the always already present, what Derrida has called in his article “Freud and the Scene of Writing” an “originary reprint,” the always already that presents itself as origin but which is always a new inscription, a new writing. He is therefore a repetition of something that has gone before which is only fully present belatedly, nachträglich.7 Franz, I suggest, is that principle which bestows meaning retrospectively, which confers meaning and purpose onto the narrator's unhappiness under the rule of the gang and her past life of denial: “Erst seit ich Franz kenne, bedeutet der Satz etwas. Ich hatte keine Jugendliebe” (AT 56).

Although her previous life under the “Bandenherrschaft” now acquires new meaning in the context of a waiting not for Godot but for Franz, her past necessarily becomes reinscribed as lack, deficiency and unhappiness, of which she only becomes fully cognizant later, retrospectively. Franz holds out the promise of redemption from all past misery as well as the hope that the mysteries of the past will be revealed to her in the shape of someone “[d]er sich als letztendlicher Sinn aller himmelschreienden Sehnsucht eines Tages offenbaren würde, offenbaren muβte, weil sonst diese umtriebige Hoffnung ein gemeiner Betrug der Natur gewesen wäre, eine paradiesische Fata Morgana auf dem Weg ins Verdursten” (AT 104). Franz thus promises to give meaning to years of frustrated hopes and longing. He enables her life to be rewritten in light of its apparent happy end. In this sense he serves as the elusive origin of writing. He is the cause and telos of a rewriting of the narrator's life history whose meaning is retrospectively, both belatedly and supplementarily, as Derrida reminds us, now revealed to her: “Wir schreiben unser Leben um, weil es uns nachträglich sein Ziel offenbart hat” (AT 181).

The rewriting of her life in light of Franz necessitates the erasure of the time before his appearance on center stage. She forgets the beginning of the affair as well as all the men she has ever known: “Seitdem fing ich an zu vergessen. Zuerst vergaβ ich die Männer, die ich gekannt hatte, bevor ich Franz traf” (AT 38). She erases all memory traces of the past which could call Franz's uniqueness into question: “alle Leidenschaft und Wollust, alle Zärtlichkeit und Gier, alles, was die Einmaligkeit meiner Liebe zu Franz hätte in Zweifel ziehen können” (AT 39). Her meeting with Franz thus inaugurates a mysterious forgetting of her past identity.8 She claims to have forgotten decisions and possible acts of agency, such as leaving her husband and daughter, thus abrogating all responsibility for her past actions.9 Her encounter with Franz coincides with the onset of an amnesia that starts with the forgetting of the first magical moment of desire.

Schon am nächsten Tag konnte ich mich nicht erinnern, welches Wort oder welche Geste meine Gewiβheit, mich der Lust und dem Schrecken solcher Offenbarung nie wieder aussetzen zu wollen, einfach in Nichts aufgelöst hatte.

(AT 37)

Memories of words and gestures, even the trace of the touch of Franz's finger across her cheek—which he reminds her was the magical moment of surrender—remain resistant to recovery from the “Unendlichkeit [ihres] Vergessens” (AT 37).

The narrator's account of her affair with Franz encounters from the outset the resistance of a faulty or reluctant memory; she professes to have forgotten crucial details while recalling with alarming accuracy others. Her attitude to remembering and forgetting appears idiosyncratic and defiant—“Im Laufe der Jahre habe ich gelernt, mich an das, was ich vergessen will, nicht zu erinnern” (AT 16). It is unclear whether forgetting is the result of a conscious desire to forget, that is, whether she will not or cannot remember. For most of the novel it remains unclear exactly what transpired between her and Franz, her and her former husband, and her and Franz's wife. We are, however, wholly reliant on her erratic and selective memory which structures the telling of the love story as it is recounted from some thirty, forty or fifty years later.

Details of the affair are recalled via a staging fantasy, consisting of a scenario in her bedroom to which the narrator constantly returns. Memories of Franz, sitting smoking his pipe naked between the sheets with the “fleischfressenden Pflanzen” are followed by tales from her childhood, the end of the war, and, occasionally, from the time of the freedom gang. The narrator returns repeatedly and fondly to the scene in bed, which is rehearsed with minor variations.

The almost compulsive repetition of the motifs which form the core elements of the fantasy (“die fleischfressenden Pflanzen,” “die hechtgrauen Augen”) have been the source of some irritation among critics.10 It can be argued, however, that they serve as important structuring devices, not significant for their content but in terms of what they conceal from the narrator's consciousness and conscience. The ordinariness of the core elements of the fantasy is suggestive of screen memories which, almost fetish-like, seek to mask loss and to reassure of its undoing. As screen memories they can be read as symptomatic of other (often contiguous) memories that are hidden, or repressed from consciousness.11 They possibly indicate the presence and repression of trauma that the recurrent motifs act to shield. While the repetition of images such as the meat-eating plants on the bed sheets may initially irritate, it in fact serves to alert the reader to the absence of other memories relating to the scene. The narrator appears reluctant, for instance, to dwell on memories of events that occurred immediately after the bedroom scene, memories that may shed light on the reasons for Franz's disappearance. It is therefore no accident that the narrator takes pleasure in the repetition of these motifs as well as particular moments in the affair, as if seeking to ward off other unpleasurable memories. It is as if repetition itself were the real source of pleasure.

As Freud outlines in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, repetition and the compulsion to repeat relieve the symptom while repeating it. Unpleasure is thus channeled into the pleasure of mastery of loss that the fantasy now affords. Much in the same way that Freud's little Hans repeats his “fort/da” game as a means of reassuring him of his mother's imminent return, the narrator seeks mastery of the loss of Franz and reassurance that he may return through the repetition of the scene immediately prior to his departure.12 She even chooses to call her lover Franz because of the long vowel sounds in the word, which like Hans' utterance “da” stages a return of the lost object of love.

It becomes clear that the will to forget—her “jahrzehntelanges Vergessenswerk” (AT 32)—is not a symptom of old age but more likely an instinctive protective response to unbearable pain or trauma, as the narrator observes:

Ebenso wie das Vergessen könnte man den Menschen verbieten, bei übergroβem Schmerz in Ohnmacht zu fallen, obwohl nur die Ohnmacht einen tödlichen Schock oder ein lebenslanges Trauma verhindern kann.

(AT 17)

“Vergessen ist die Ohnmacht der Seele,” reflects the narrator, and not comparable to not remembering. Her defiant and truculent disdain for the “landläufigen Kult des Erinnerns” that swept her country after the end of the freedom gang suggests not merely a rejection of orthodox attitudes to remembering the past but a necessary means of shielding herself from painful, even shameful memories. If we are right to assume that a trauma underlies her reluctance or inability to remember, then the trauma to which she is obliquely referring is possibly her abandonment by Franz, given the prominence assigned this event in her account.

With the introduction of a new element in the bedroom fantasy and with the presence of difference in repetition—where Franz and the narrator are no longer sitting in bed but opposite one another—the narrative enters a new phase. A breaching has taken place in both consciousness and the “conscious” level of the narrative that possibly indicates that the resistance to memory is diminishing. This is the scene where Franz announces he is going on holiday with his wife.

Franz's trip to Hadrian's Wall in Scotland with his wife signals the failure of the narrator's quest to repeat the “Jugendliebe” she never had. Franz's departure is seen as the first serious act of betrayal, particularly heinous since it is also a flight into “Unerreichbarkeit” beyond her reach. But more importantly it heralds a movement away from the narrator back to his wife, “zu der er mehr gehörte als zu mir” (AT 127):

Die Unerreichbarkeit hinter der Franz sich verschanzt hatte, mein eigenes Ausgestoβensein, verfügt durch Franz, zu dem ich einzig gehörte, verdrängten jeden Gedanken und lieβen nichts übrig als ein Gefühl höllischer Verlorenheit.

(AT 158)

With Franz's departure old wounds and trauma are reawakened. Two scenes of betrayal and abandonment from her childhood are evoked at different points in the novel, one at the hands of her parents and the other by an adolescent boyfriend. In the first scene from her childhood her parents punish her for her disobedience by locking her inside the house while they attend a birthday party. Her only means of defense is to protest at her “Verlassenheit” by screaming until the point of exhaustion. This scene is also reminiscent of another memory fragment recounted to Franz earlier in the novel which concerns the night she spent waiting for the return of Klaus Peter, her first boyfriend, in the stairs in front of his flat. This memory, too, stages a similar scenario of exclusion and abandonment followed by a desire for revenge. It is revealed later by her friend Ate that her rage may have been motivated by a desire for revenge after having been betrayed. Franz, however, has ensured he is unattainable, too far away to hear her cries of rage, unable to be followed or waited for. After losing track of the couple at the airport she pursues them via telepathy, hoping to bombard Franz with the “Strom meiner Liebe.” She utters “Beschwörungsformeln” (AT 152) in the direction of Scotland and performs obscurantist parapsychological rites, before resorting to calling all the hotels in all the towns along Hadrian's Wall in Scotland in search of signs of them. She wants to tell Franz that she is not a barbarian: “Für einen Satz hatte er mich zur Barbarin ernannt, vor der sich zivilisierte Römer wie Franz und seine Frau durch eine Mauer schützen muβten” (AT 156). When she eventually finds them in Hayden Bridge, she rings off but resumes her search for them without ever making contact again.

She is haunted by the recollection of Franz and his wife at the airport, in particular the smile he gives his wife—“Dieses Lächeln klafft wie eine nicht heilende Wunde in meiner Erinnerung” (AT 148). Love cedes to outrage and pleasure to pain as she gives herself over to “einem Schmerz, der ganz und gar mir gehörte, der mir bestimmt war oder ich ihm” (AT 149). The fantasy that has her displacing Franz's wife alongside Franz—that imaginary scenario and scene of the imaginary—has been reversed, and she has been relegated to the position of intruder, outsider, lover, the other woman and child that is punished. Moreover, she has proof of her infinite substitutability and is haunted but fascinated by the act of betrayal and the thought “daβ er es mit ihr genau so tun würde wie mit mir” (AT 154). The fantasy has failed to materialize—Franz identifies the confusion of dreams and reality as her fatal flaw—“Du dagegen hältst einen Traum sogar für die Wirklichkeit” (AT 116). Sacrifice in the relationship is one-sided as she slowly begins to realize: “Er hätte sie verlassen müssen, wie ich meinen Ehemann verlassen hatte, oder wie der unauffällig aus meinem Leben verschwunden war, weil niemand da war, den er hätte verlassen können” (AT 187).

Much of the anger the narrator feels at being left behind stems from the shock at seeing Franz's wife for the first time. The pert, blond woman at his side reminds her of her sports teacher, Frau Perleberg, and seems an imperfect match for the melancholic Franz. The narrator sees in Franz's wife a grotesque travesty of herself; this couple was not the “Liebe auf Leben und Tod” but a “vierbeiniger Homunkulus, eine Miβgestalt, etwas zu Unrecht Bestehendes” (AT 125). So great is her sense of violation at her usurpation by a woman as insipid as Frau Perleberg that she forces herself to witness in voyeuristic manner scenes of intimacy she imagines taking place between Franz and his wife in Scotland. In particular she seems to derive almost perverse pleasure from rehearsing scenes of the couple copulating: Franz's wife stripped naked (“immer wieder zwang ich sie, die Kleider abzulegen” (AT 153) and Franz penetrating a female body which bears every resemblance to her own:

Die Zeichen des Alters hafteten ihm ebenso an wie meinem. … Er hatte alles, was einen Körper als weiblich ausweist … er hatte alles, was ich hatte, und trotzdem verweigerte ich ihm die Anerkennung meines Geschlechts.

(AT 154)

Her defense is to rob Franz's wife's body of any resemblance to her own and to strip it of any feminine traits. The naked body of her rival is reviled as “ein artfremdes Wesen” (AT 153-54) as the narrator wallows masochistically in the revulsion she feels at evoking the sight of Franz's wife undressing, bathing, and making love.

As Franz's lover, the narrator occupies a precarious position in the triangulated relationship between Franz and his wife. However much she longs for Franz to leave his wife for her, however much she covets the place beside Franz as his wife and sole partner, the position occupied by Franz's wife is strangely barred as a site of identification. It appears to be negated by the disgust and repudiation she feels towards Franz's wife as a representative of her sex. This revulsion towards the female body is, however, indicative of a much deeper ambivalence towards femininity and corporeality.

In the context of her adolescence the narrator remarks that “Weiberfleisch” (AT 74) provokes reactions of disgust in her, even when it is her own. When her own body, described as “geschlechtslos magerer” (AT 74), threatens to assume the same feminine contours as her mother, this is seen as the fulfillment of “die genetische Botschaft” (AT 74) she has inherited from her mother. She masks its emerging femininity with men's clothes “um ihn an der Ausprägung seiner fleischigen Weiblichkeit zu hindern” (AT 74). Furthermore, for fear that she may come to resemble her mother, whom she believes to be “alarmierend weiblich” (AT 74), she forbids her body any gesture or movement that bears resemblance to her mother or women like her. Most of all she prevents her body from emitting any gesture that could be read as a sign of the desire to please men. In this way femininity becomes inseparable from compliance with a patriarchal order and with submission and subjugation to the will of the father (or what Lacan has termed the Name of the Father). For the daughter a masquerade of masculinity becomes a means of disavowing an historical form of femininity that is associated with her mother's generation. Disapproval of the historical and social compromises of the mother's generation results in a rejection of any form of corporeality, and its characteristic signs of femininity, that could be identified with her mother.

The narrator's attempts to disguise the feminine contours of her body and the denial of similarities between Franz's wife's body and her own are, I suggest, symptomatic of a blocked or repressed identification with the mother and with the “castrated” position of normative femininity. Her displeasure at the manifest signs of the femininity of her own flesh and that of Franz's wife points to a double negation and blockage of both desire and identification. The double negativity consists in the dual denial of the mother as love object (which for Freud was the necessary precondition of heterosexual femininity) and a refusal of the mother as object of identification (as the way in which the loss of the primary love object is resolved).13 For it is in part this walling up of desire and identification that ultimately spells the death of love and the spoiling of the heterosexual dream of living with Franz, and which sees Eros give way to Thanatos. It is this blockage that can be considered to form the basis of a narcissistic wound that is revived and relived later in life, particularly in the disappointments she experiences in adolescence and in love. The earlier wound constitutes the formative psychical and historical experience in her life, the psychic lesion, shock or breach that presents itself after the event (nachträglich) in the form of a trauma and the compulsion to repeat.14

The narrator's homophobic response towards her mother's body and that of Franz's wife are typical responses to the “abject,” the term used by Julia Kristeva to designate that part of the self that is neither wholly self nor other, which constitutes a recurrent source of fascination and horror.15 In particular, phenomena that are associated with the maternal body, its effluents and fluids as well as other types of physical matter that seem to straddle boundaries and borders such as excrement, sweat, skin on milk, typically elicit mixed emotional responses of revulsion and attraction. The female body, whether her own, that of her mother or Franz's wife, thus becomes a figure of abjection, associated with a despised maternality that could be read as indicative of a repressed or disavowed homosexual desire for the same body. Likewise it is hardly surprising that abject objects, bodily fluids and orifices such as Franz's semen encrusted on the sheets with the “fleischfressenden Pflanzen” constitute objects of desire for the narrator, coveted if not fetishized as reminders and traces, however, repulsive, of Franz's past presence.

The fraught nature of female and male identification is compounded by historical circumstances peculiar to both postwar German states at the end of World War Two. The formation of gender identity, here female heterosexuality, appears to become arrested as a result of the reimposition of traditional gender roles after the war. Although the narrator denies fond memories of her childhood, she describes the time between the war and school—the period immediately after the war—as the happiest of her childhood. Her general reluctance to idealize the past thus leads her to view a time of extreme deprivation as her happiest. This was the time before the windows and doors of the bombed-out churches were boarded up and the fathers returned with their war wounds and their “wandernde Granatsplitter” (AT 62). As her childhood games of playing “Vater-Mutter-Kind” (AT 68) with poisoned rats together with Hansi Petzke suggest, her early sexual orientation appears to be heterosexual. The time preceding the unwelcomed return of the fathers corresponds to a period of development in which femininity appears unproblematic and uncomplicated, a time, moreover, she claims is not spoilt by penis envy. When someone claiming to be her father returns, he offers neither object of love—“ich konnte einfach nicht glauben, daβ er mein Vater war, weil er mir gar nicht gefiel” (AT 63)—nor the possibility of identification. This she considers a blessing since love or any degree of idealization and identification would only have become a “Verhängnis” as it did with her childhood friend Hinrich Schmidt. When Hinrich discovered that his much loved and admired father had ordered recalcitrant students to be beaten he committed suicide:

Gerade weil er seinen Vater liebte, weil er ihm gleichen wollte, muβte er seinem Gefühl konsequent folgen, sich selbst auslöschen, wie sein Vater es gefordert hatte und wie er selbst es demzufolge wollen muβte.

(AT 67)

Grateful to have escaped the fate of having a likeable father she concludes: “So blieb er eine Enttäuschung” (AT 65).

Similarly her mother was also to become a disappointment through her submissive behavior towards her father. On her father's return, her mother feigns helplessness, pretending “für die einfachsten Verrichtungen zu ungeschickt zu sein” (AT 70). She willingly relinquishes her independence and authority within the family, deferring to male power through a masquerade of female stupidity and vulnerability. The mother's acquiescence in the father's tyranny represents the destruction of a “Traum des Glücks” and the loss of an imaginary, utopian space of female autonomy and power. The return of the fathers serves to reinstate the “castration” and powerlessness of the female sex. Even more galling for the narrator was the mother's degree of complicity in reestablishing male dominance which she sees epitomized in her mother's sentence: “man müsse den Männern wieder zu Selbstvertrauen verhelfen” (AT 70). As a result of the repositioning of women in traditional subordinate roles within society at the end of the war, the daughters were left with a sense of loss at forfeiting “die Chance dieses vermaledeiten Jahrhunderts” (AT 71). This was the unique opportunity of raising a generation in their own image without the intrusion of fathers.

For the narrator, the historical and personal failings of her parent's generation mean that the children find themselves locked in battle against hereditary factors that see them assume more and more the characteristics of the parents that they do not wish to become. She observes: “alle Menschen, die ich kennengelernt habe, waren von der natürlichen Bedrohung, ihren Eltern ähnlich zu werden, so entsetzt, daβ ihr Leben einem Slalomlauf um die ererbten Eigenschaften glich und sich auf die Art letztlich schicksalhaft erfüllte” (AT 73). The failure of the mother to resist male domination and hence her unsuitability as a parental imago or ideal ego results in the daughter's deeply ambivalent attitude towards femininity and her own corporeality. The rejection of the mother as an object of identification is therefore a refusal to accept the fact of female castration and powerlessness (as the condition for entry into the heterosexual matrix). Similarly the possibility of adopting the mother as an object of desire in an anaclitic object choice is also disallowed. Her hostility towards both parents, but more significantly her disappointment with her mother, ultimately mean that neither parental position represents a satisfactory point of identification and the issue of lack or castration is unresolved.

The end of the war, which signaled the end of all childhood fantasies of autonomous femininity, comes under the sign of loss and lack. So too does the reformation of the parental couple experienced by the narrator as a moment of betrayal and loss of ideals. It is this experience of loss, which is repeated when Franz leaves her to go on holiday with his wife, that can be regarded as reactivating earlier disappointments and psychic shocks. As she relives childhood experiences of abandonment and betrayal she is forced to return to an earlier stage in her psychic development. After Franz joins his wife on holiday in Scotland and the primacy of the married couple has been reasserted, the narrator appears to embark on a path of regression to an earlier oedipal position. This has her enacting a role reminiscent to the pre-oedipal child of Freud's primal scene who spies on his parents copulating.16 In the voyeuristic scenes she conjures up of Franz and his wife copulating in Scotland, the narrator appears to mobilize narcissistic, infantile strategies to compensate for the experience of loss and disempowerment. It is as if she were caught in an imaginary world dominated by the child's fantasy of disrupting parental intercourse.

After Franz's departure with his wife the narrator experiences all interactions and friendships as an extension or reflection of her affair with Franz. This becomes painfully obvious when she visits Ate, an old East German friend from before the end of the “rule of the gang.” Acting on an irrepressible desire to see Ate and to return to the time “vor dem schlechten Verzicht, der Zeit des Anfangs, als alle Ideale noch zu erreichen schienen” (AT 142), she revisits old friendships in search of a time of certainties, stable relationships, and fixed identities in the hope of revivifying the dream slowly slipping from her grasp.

During the dinner Ate holds for a group of old friends, two different stories of marital breakdown in the wake of unification are told. In both cases the end of the rule of the gang served as the catalyst for marital infidelities and eventual breakdown. In the new political and historical circumstances, old couples lost their raison d'être and new liaisons formed that took advantage of the lack of constraints on personal freedom. The narrator's response to her friend's stories is significant: she over-cathects the relationship problems of her friends, unable to see them in other than purely narcissistic terms: “Jede Geschichte war meine Geschichte” (AT 170). For Sieglinde, for example, whose husband left her after twenty-four years of marriage for Renate, the narrator feels no sympathy. However, when Rainer tells of his decision to leave his wife of fifteen years “ohne sonderlichen Grund” he meets with the narrator's unqualified approval: “Zustimmung. Viel Glück, sagte ich” (AT 169).

The triangular web of relationships in which she is repeatedly cast in the role of the other woman, the excluded child, the jilted lover, rather than the legitimate wife and partner of Franz forms a type of internal map whose co-ordinates plot her emotional responses to people around her. This map is not unlike the Funktionsplan in her brain that seemed to be inverted or seitenverkehrt after that evening a year before meeting Franz when someone short-circuited her brain (AT 22-23). Like that moment of epiphany, her new map brings with it a shift in her perceptions and affects. Similar to a template or a mis-èn-scène with preallotted roles, the oedipalized map stakes out possible identifications for the subject while barring others, providing a script and a structure for the articulation of desire.

The narrator's responses to the stories of her friends are thus preprogrammed by her fantasies, or what Laplanche has called the “phantasmatic,” the substrata of unconscious fantasy material crucial for the formation of gender identity and subjectivity that now subtends all her interactions with the social world.17 From this point on the fantasmatic appears to win out over the reality principle as the social field becomes increasingly oedipalized. Her ability to empathize or identify with her friends is thus affected, depending on which position her friends occupy in relation to herself as the wronged lover/abandoned child in the fantasmatic script. Her response to Sieglinde's story is particularly telling:

Trotzdem empfand ich es als einen längst überfälligen Vollzug der Gerechtigkeit, der mich mit Genugtuung, sogar mit Schadenfreude erfüllte, daβ Sieglindes Mann … zu Renate gezogen war, statt mit Sieglinde an den Hadrianswall oder sonstwohin zu reisen.

(AT 163)

Here Sieglinde's identity merges with that of Franz's wife as does Sieglinde's husband with Franz, as all subject positions are reduced to a reflection of her own circumstances. Thus, Sieglinde and the picture of “tapfere […] Untröstlichkeit” (AT 162) that she presents offer no points of identification since the narrator's psychic template is skewed permanently in favor of herself to privilege the victory of the lover/child. In the process, female solidarity and identification are subordinated to a narcissistic and obsessive projecting of the self into the world. Instead of supporting Sieglinde she rallies behind Rainer, entering into a “verrückter Pakt” (AT 168) with him.18 Her world becomes increasing dominated by the realm of the Imaginary, that psychic space governed by mis-recognition, narcissistic love, jealousy, hate and aggression. So much so that she fails to recognize Sieglinde's loss of a husband as a blessing in disguise. The narrator muses that Sieglinde's husband may have returned to her in the interim but is unsure whether this would bring her happiness after Sieglinde's casual observation during the evening that the eczema she had suffered from for twenty years had disappeared shortly after her husband's departure. The narrator is unable to read the disappearance of Sieglinde's eczema as a telling sign of her friend's liberation from conflict and marital unhappiness. The story Sieglinde's body has to tell remains untold, the hieroglyphics of the allergies and rashes marking its surface remain an undecipherable, enigmatic code for the narrator, a visible but as yet unreadable text that has its own tale of deformation and domination to tell.

Throughout the novel the narrator's capacity to remember grows stronger as the resistance to remembering diminishes. Repression is weakening and she combs her memory for traces of an earlier imprint, or inscription, which, like the footsteps of the dinosaurs in Pliny Moody's garden, may have left “ein Abdruck” in the “uraltes Gestein” of her memory (AT 111). Remembering constitutes a breaching of the resistance to retrieving these archaic memory traces, a making conscious of unconscious material, which, as Derrida insists, is always a new transcription (Umschrift).19 Telling the story to its end forces therefore the undoing of repression and deferral, but it is also the affirmation of the death principle, and, as a result, she assumes that her life is now nearing its end. Instead, the narrative is nearing that unbearable moment of pain and trauma, that key moment repressed from her memory, as it tries to undo the “Ohnmacht der Seele” (AT 17).

The repetitive cycle of memory is finally broken when for the first time she manages to remember past Franz's visit to Scotland and beyond the pleasurable moments in their relationship. The weakening of resistance to recollection leads her to recover the memory of that principle that, according to Freud, overrides pleasure: the death drive. As Freud points out in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, repetition is anathema to remembering, since the compulsion to repeat forms a shield against unpleasant memories and trauma.20 With the introduction of difference and a breaching of resistance, the way is clear for remembering to the end. Finally, the moment the reader has been awaiting comes when she announces “heute will ich mich bis ans Ende erinnern” (AT 198).

Not content to be mere lover in the triangle, she is unable to take Franz at his word, not even when he talks of moving in with her. For her it is already too late. The phase of Dankbarkeit has passed and the time of unmet expectations and lost hopes is upon her. Her fears, suspicions and resentment spoil the object of desire, as she once ruined her new Italian shoes because someone said the soles were cheap and would not last. The only way to wish-fulfillment now lies either in the destruction of the object of desire or in the destruction of the self, that is, through the unleashing of what was for Freud stronger and more archaic than the pleasure principle: the death instinct.21 After another miraculous escape from death in New York, an unconscious decision is made to choose the escape-route of the avenger over the victim, of Kleist's “halsstarrige” Penthesilea over the “demütige” Käthchen (AT 175).

Franz's and her desires, dreams and longings are, it seems, ill-matched, just as their family histories predestine them to live their lives differently: he tries to avoid the repetition of his parent's break-up, she strives to bring it about. Their lives are marked by irreducible differences. They have dedicated their pasts to opposing principles, she has given her life over to the study of dinosaurs and he to the minutiae of the lives of ants. They carry irreconcilable ideological baggage with them from their respective countries, Franz recites harmless church and hunting songs, whereas the narrator parodies the far more sinister Stalinhymn. Ultimately, Franz cannot compensate for the “Willkür des Absurden” (AT 32) under the rule of the gang, it seems he can only exacerbate the inferiority of her past. Instead he can bring civilization to the barbarians, as did the Romans who built Hadrian's Wall. He and his wife, “die wahre Gefährtin der Zivilisiertheit” (AT 157), can colonize the uncivilized, just as they invaded the sacred spot beneath the brachiosaurus where the narrator first met Franz, thereby violating their shared secret. For the narrator there remains little alternative but to become the barbarian Franz implies she is and to embrace the return of the repressed in becoming West Germany's uncivilized other. She thus enacts a regression through the stages of individual history, even through the stages of evolutionary history becoming prehuman, an “Äffin” (AT 207) with a “dichtes kurzes Tierfell” (AT 207) and “eine stumpfe Tiernase” (AT 208), or the “verirrtes Insekt” (AT 122) looking for an escape. Unable to escape her fate as Western civilization's archaic other, she rediscovers the dinosaur in herself—“der Inbegriff des Maβlosen” (AT 219)—and unleashes that archaic force Franz implies lies buried within her: “Ich begriff, daβ es das Saurierhafte an mir war, das so liebte, etwas Uraltes, atavistisch Gewaltsames, jede zivilisatorische Norm miβachtend, und nichts, was Sprache brauchte, konnte recht haben gegen meine Liebe zu Franz” (AT 131). Becoming animal is her last line of flight, her last escape-route, since it divests her of moral choice and spares her divine retribution. An animal, she tells Franz shortly before he dies under the wheels of a bus, does not go to hell.

In the final pages of the novel the likely reasons for Franz's disappearance on that fateful night in autumn are revealed. However, in the moment of truth she still finds it hard to distinguish truth from fiction, fact from wish-fulfillment. Years of invention and fantasizing have meant the last meeting with Franz is almost irretrievable:

Während der vielen Jahre habe ich alles Mögliche mit allem Geschehenen vermischt und kombiniert, Gedachtes mit Gesprochenem, Zukünftiges mit nie Vergessenem, Erhofftes mit Befürchtetem.

(AT 232)

During their last meeting, Franz is on the verge of throwing off the burden of his father's infidelity and announcing he will leave his wife for the narrator. But Franz is never allowed to utter the one sentence that has been deferred throughout the novel—“Es muβ ein schrecklicher Satz sein; oder ein wunderbarer” (AT 19)—or at least the narrator seems unwilling to remember whether it was uttered. Instead, she feels certain he is lying and will not return. At the moment of wish-fulfillment she once again spoils the coveted object of desire. This time she pushes or helps to push Franz under the wheels of an approaching bus. His death could be accidental or intentional, in any case she feels she bears the responsibility: “Halte ich ihn, stoβe ich ihn, reiβt er sich los. … Ich habe Franz getötet. Oder war ich es nicht? … So oder so, ich habe Franz getötet” (AT 238).

In the last section of the narrative it is revealed that the narrator's faulty memory is not a willful forgetting, nor merely the result of the repression of loss, that primary scene of abandonment and betrayal replayed repeatedly throughout her life. It now appears that another wound or trauma has motivated her amnesia, another event that precipitated her loss of Franz has been withheld from the story and repressed from the text. This is the scene of a crime in which the narrator is not the victim but the perpetrator of a murder. It is this scene that is the real “scene of writing,” the real origin of her story that necessitates a rewriting of the story of woman as victim. This fact, deferred from the narration until the very end, is like Franz and the end of despotic rule, a moment of Nachträglichkeit, that moment which retrospectively bestows fresh significance on a life, a past, and a story. Franz's death provides the key to the narrator's story and gives the story meaning that, while always already there, only becomes fully present or realized belatedly, and supplementarily, as difference in repetition.

In creating a protagonist who is neither wholly victim nor culprit Maron forces the question of blame and guilt effectively back onto the reader to decide. Does the narrator's confession alter or negate the fact that she is until the end the loser in the affair? Is the recovery of the repressed memory of Franz's death even to be believed or is the confession of guilt itself merely an expression of the deformation of the victim? In terms of the narrator's story, the alleged murder of Franz becomes the moment of Nachträglichkeit in the reader's own version of the story, that pivotal point that was already there but which only becomes significant belatedly in the act of narrating. Maron not only succeeds in blurring the issues of responsibility and blame, remembrance and forgetting, but also any clear boundaries between victims and culprits, the winners and losers of unification. She succeeds, moreover, in giving the highly charged questions to do with public and private processes of remembrance and repression the sensitive and differentiated treatment they deserve. When Reich-Ranicki remarked that Maron had finally found her topic in Animal Triste he was of course alluding to the theme of love. There is, however, another sense in which Maron has found her topic in the novel, that is, in relation to the themes of repressed memory and the return of the repressed. In 1995, a year before the novel was released, Maron's own repressed past became briefly the subject of intense public speculation when the Spiegel alleged that Maron had collaborated as an informer with the Stasi under the name “Mitsu” from 1976 to 1978. In the debates that ensued details of her contacts with the Stasi were to constitute that moment of Nachträglichkeit in Maron's own life. Like the narrator's murder of Franz, this fact, once narrated, was to force a rewriting of her past achievements as a writer and political commentator on her country. The mere fact that Maron had served briefly as an informer was seen by many as grounds to negate other aspects of her life, such as the fact that she was also a victim of the Stasi, when she was listed under the name “Wildsau.”

Maron's response to the public reaction to the discovery that the Stasi had listed her as an informer sheds some light on the connection between forgetting and personal pain and trauma elucidated in the novel. Like Christa Wolf she was admonished by the Spiegel and others for her “Erinnerungs- und Verantwortungsschwund” and for not publicly announcing her period of working for the Stasi, however trivial it may have been.22 This, according to Maron, was precisely her reason for not publicly declaring this period of her life. This would be to admit to guilt that she does not feel and has no reasons to feel: “Jetzt, zweiundvierzig Jahre später, sollte ich wieder eine Schuld bekennen, die ich nicht empfinde, eine Tat zugeben, die ich nicht begangen habe.”23 Her close friend and fellow writer, Katja Lange-Müller, implies that many of these memories are painful and even embarrassing for Maron, who clearly regrets her decision “selbst wenn ihr Stolz es nicht zuläβt, daβ sie sich deswegen vor aller Augen in die Asche wirft.”24

It is in the context of the numerous Stasi debates in the years following unification and the sustained public interest in revelations of collaboration among East Germany's writers that the narrator's politically incorrect attitude to remembering ought to be situated. Her defiance is best understood against the backdrop of the immense public pressure that was brought to bear on East German intellectuals after unification. In the poisoned atmosphere in which allegations and denunciations of writers and their past involvements with the Stasi occurred—what Heiner Müller called a “giftgeschwollene Atmosphäre”25—it is not hard to comprehend writers' reluctance to offer themselves up for public sacrifice or for trial by media. Even well-meaning calls for a close and honest scrutiny of the past in terms of a Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung were frequently formulated by journalists and others in terms of an almost neo-Kantian moral imperative to remember.26 Maron, for example, was castigated for not outing herself before it became known,27 and her silence after the news was broken was interpreted by Jürgen Fuchs as “feindselig.”28 As the narrator of Animal Triste remarks, to defy this moral imperative to confess was “sündhaft” (AT 17).

In the novel Maron demonstrates the social and personal consequences of ostracizing sections of the East German population on the grounds of their involvement with the Stasi. The solipsism of the protagonist in the novel, while appearing to be a conscious screening out of reality, is patently also a measure of her extreme isolation from mainstream politics and contemporary ethics of remembrance. Her inner emigration is, it can be inferred, in response to the misapprobation she incurred as a result of her refusal to participate in the cult of remembrance after the end of the freedom gang. The self in the book is a minimal self, a variation on the Rosalind in Die Überläuferin29 who retreats voluntarily into her private world of dreams and fantasies. Like Rosalind, the narrator's withdrawal from the outside world in Animal Triste is presented as largely self-imposed. Yet in both books retreat is an act of survival in a hostile and coercive environment, even where this external world is screened out almost entirely from the narrative.

The extreme isolation of the narrator is, like her act of revenge on Franz, also socially and historically motivated. Her self-imposed exile from society is a response to the wealth of unassimilable experience that confronts her in the period following the end of the rule of the gang. Her fixation on Franz serves to ward off the overwhelming changes in her life, which are indicated in the reference to the restructuring underway in the Natural History Museum. Initially, we are told, she felt that the transformations did not go far enough, and that she longed for more fundamental changes in society, “etwas, das gröβer war als der Mensch und sein wechselhaftes Streben” (AT 89). Later, however, she appears almost indifferent to the threat of unemployment which, Franz assures her, she will be spared, an indifference that is not entirely to be believed. She claims to have been unaware of the threats surrounding her—“den Gefahren, die dem Museum, dem Brachiosaurus und mir drohten”—yet her inability to apprehend or comprehend the social upheaval around her seems to stem more from a denial or disavowal of reality. Her obsession with Franz effectively helps to screen out and delay the threatening, potentially destructive consequences of unification, much in the same way as the rehearsal of scenes in her bedroom before Franz's “departure” serves to shield her from the threat of loss of her “Liebe auf Leben und Tod.” While social and political reality is largely absent from the narrative, its effects are everywhere and undeniably present, most palpably in the narrator's obsessive and fateful denial of the reality principle.

The narrator makes the remark that cultural memory work is the product of invention and cites society's remembrance of the dinosaurs as a prime example of the cultural construction of memory. At a personal level, however, memory acts as a conservative, protective force, serving to armor the self against sea changes as well as against shocks from the past. The narrator describes memories as being like “Fremdkörper im Innern einer Perle” (AT 106), foreign particles that penetrate into shellfish. The intruder is encrusted with layer after layer of protective coating of mother of pearl until finally a pearl emerges, “ein schillerndes, rundes Gebilde mit glatter Oberfläche” (AT 106). These memories, paraded as a “Kostbarkeit,” are in fact a “Krankheit.” The narrator thus implies that well-crafted vignettes from the past, brandished for the public gaze, are not necessarily the products of genuine memory-work or any truer to experience. Memories that are polished over time like pearls are false, like the small, blond woman who resembles Frau Perleberg: “etwas ganz und gar Falsches, falsch, falsch, falsch” (AT 125). They are often the outcome of inauthentic memory processes, much like the medallions Christa Wolf speaks of in her famous essay from 1968, “Lesen und Schreiben.”30 For Wolf most people craft themselves memories of past experience in the form of “eine Kollektion kolorierter Medaillons” that they polish over time and produce on appropriate occasions. These memories of the past are hardened pieces of experience that are passed off as authentic tokens of life's achievements, as trophies of past triumphs or as evidence of an honorable and worthy past life. They are, Wolf argues, inauthentic proof of the past: “… ehemals aktive, jetzt aber durch Einkapselung stillgelegte Lebensflecken.”31 The true past is thus rendered inaccessible as long as myths and legends (“diese recht hübsch gemachten Kunstgewerbestücke”32) circulate as currency in social discourse.

Maron shares Wolf's distrust of memories presented as medallions for public scrutiny, particularly when used as currency during exchanges between victims and perpetrators. Glib versions of the past, polished performances of guilt and regret must cede to the more pressing task of personal memory work, that is, the highly private task of retrieving the original “Fremdkörper” and the “lästiger Eindringling” from beneath the protective layerings of mother of pearl in order to access the original memory from within. Memory becomes a personal duty to the self, a labor of excavating earlier recollections from the deposits of time. Rather than a publicly visible act, remembrance is seen instead as a private archaeological dig in which the self combs the memory for traces of an earlier life and remains of an earlier civilization. For the barbarian that the narrator feels herself doomed to become, the tools of archaeology are necessary means of uncovering the truth about her past, but also proof of an earlier civilization, even if this form of civilization contained acts of barbarism. Thus, on her journey back into the past, the narrator stumbles across her own acts of barbarism in the murder of Franz. The tracing of her own genealogy after overcoming the resistance of repression finally uncovers her own guilt and culpability at its origins.

If the old saying holds that post coitum mankind is an animal triste, then the title of Maron's book suggests that in the wake of unification Germany, like the abandoned lover of the book, has much to mourn about. But mourning, like remembering, cannot be simply willed or enforced from above, nor can it gain unmediated access to the past. Memory is always a product of the circumstances in which it is produced and performed. Maron issues a word of warning to those such as Bärbel Bohley who call for a radical “Reinigungsprozeβ der Gesellschaft”: “eine Vergangenheit,” remarked Maron in 1995 in connection with the revelations about her Stasi past, “läβt sich nicht wie eine Wohnung reinigen.”33 Personal as well as collective memory demands time and must first deal with the psychical and cultural resistance of repression before the “soul's” protective shielding of trauma can be overcome and the past in all its shamefulness and duplicity confronted.


  1. Marcel Reich-Ranicki, “Der Liebe Fluch,” Der Spiegel 12 Feb. 1996: 185-90.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Monika Maron, Animal Triste (Frankfurt aM: S. Fischer, 1996). All further references to this work will appear in the text as AT.

  4. Maron, Stille Zeile Sechs (Frankfurt aM: S. Fischer, 1991). All further references to this work will appear in the text as SZ6.

  5. Monika Maron, Flugasche (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1981) 155.

  6. Martin Krumbholz, “Monika Maron's Animal Triste,Die Zeit 31 May 1996.

  7. See Jacques Derrida, “Freud and the Scene of Writing,” Writing and Difference, trans. with intro. Alan Bass (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978): “The unconscious text is already a weave of pure traces, differences in which meaning and force are united—text nowhere present, consisting of archives which are always already transcriptions. Originary reprints. Everything begins with reproduction. Always already: repositories of meaning which was never present, whose signified presence is always constituted by deferral, nachträglich, belatedly, supplementarily: for the nachträglich means supplementary” (211).

  8. She reacts suspiciously to Franz's questioning who she was before the end of the freedom gang, claiming not to know who she was. However, she indicates that it was perhaps not Franz at all that posed the question but herself.

  9. See her remark that she is unsure how and when her husband and daughter left her and even if her daughter was grown up. She assumes her daughter must have left home, otherwise Franz would not have allowed her to abandon her. Franz represents her conscience and assumes the role of decision maker, taking responsibility for her decisions.

  10. See for example Gustav Seibt, “Alte Liebe: Monika Maron wirft sich ein Tierfell um,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 24 Feb. 1996.

  11. Sigmund Freud, “Childhood Memories and Screen Memories,” in: The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), The Standard Edition Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey in collaboration with Anna Freud (London: Hogarth, 1960), 6: 43-52.

  12. Freud, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” (1920), On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis, trans. James Strachey, ed. Angela Richards (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), 2: 271-338.

  13. Feminists have long pointed out the problematic nature of Freud's account of the oedipal phase, particularly in relation to women. It has been argued that Freud's theory of normative heterosexuality foresees a double bind for women, a double wave of repression that does not exist for boys. Women, according to this asymmetrical model of sexual development, must forego their primary object of love in the figure of the mother, as well as renouncing all desire for the sex of this object, as the condition for the formation of heterosexual gender identity. Thus, homosexual desire is repressed as well as its object, and this love transferred to father-substitutes (the boy does not have to renounce the aim of desire, only transfer his object to a mother-substitute). The mother is renounced as an object of love, becoming instead an object of identification. According to Judith Butler, the loss of the same-sexed object of desire results in a melancholic structure of normative femininity as the prohibition against homosexuality is internalized. Interestingly, for Butler and Irigaray, melancholia is a psychoanalytic norm for women and gender identity is established through a refusal of loss and a denial of the homosexual cathexis. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York, London: Routledge, 1990), 62-69.

  14. Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, intro. Daniel Lagache, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (London: Karnac, 1973) 465-68.

  15. Julia Kristeva, The Powers of Horror (New York: Columbia UP, 1982).

  16. For Freud a key primal scene in the aetiology of sexuality is that moment in fantasy life when the (male) child discovers the horrific fact of female castration, and hence experiences the threat of his own castration. It is this pivotal moment in psychical development which causes the child to renounce any identification with the mother and shift allegiance to the father. In Lacanian psychoanalysis it inaugurates the Law of the Father and the entry into the Symbolic order.

  17. Laplanche and Pontalis 314-18.

  18. It can be assumed she has a brief affair with Rainer since her pact with Rainer is said to be in some way connected with Franz's departure: “Es ist auch möglich, daβ ich mich so gut an Sieglinde erinnere, weil ohne sie der verrückte Pakt zwischen Rainer und mir vermutlich nicht zustande gekommen wäre und Franz mich demzufolge vielleicht nicht verlassen hätte” (AT 168).

  19. Derrida 206.

  20. See Freud, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” 288.

  21. See Freud, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” 287, 294.

  22. See Editorial Der Spiegel 7 Aug. 1995 and article “Stasi-Deckname ‘Mitsu,’” Der Spiegel 7 Aug. 1995.

  23. See Maron, “Heuchelei und Niedertracht: Scharfrichteraugen: Die selbstgerechten Spitzeljäger verkennen gern, daβ Staat und Stasi eins waren,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 14 Oct. 1995.

  24. Katja Lange-Müller, “‘Sie hat mir alles erzählt,’” Die Woche 11 Aug. 1995.

  25. Heiner Müller, “Giftgeschwollene Atmosphäre,” europäische ideen: StasiSachen 4 84 (1993): 59.

  26. The best example of this was the response of Fritz J. Raddatz when it became known that Christa Wolf had worked as an informant. He pleads with her to “take away my and your readers' sadness” and to remain true to the dignity of her work. She was given no credit for revealing the truth herself and reproached instead for not supplying her disappointed readers with a satisfactory explanation. Fritz J. Raddatz, “Von der Beschädigung der Literatur durch ihre Urheber,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 28 Jan. 1993.

  27. Schirrmacher implies that the evidence is so slight that Maron should have made the facts known earlier. Franz Schirrmacher, “Lebensläufe: Monika Maron und die Stasi,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 7 Aug. 1995.

  28. Jürgen Fuchs, “In der Stasi-Falle,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 17 Oct. 1995.

  29. Monika Maron, Die Überläuferin (Frankfurt aM: Fischer, 1986).

  30. Christa Wolf, “Lesen und Schreiben,” Die Dimension des Autors: Essays und Aufsätze, Reden und Gespräche 1959-1985 (Berlin/DDR: Aufbau, 1987) 478.

  31. Ibid.

  32. Ibid 479.

  33. Maron, “Heuchelei und Niedertracht.”

Irmgard Elsner Hunt (review date autumn 1999)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 922

SOURCE: Hunt, Irmgard Elsner. Review of Pawels Briefe, by Monika Maron. World Literature Today 73, no. 4 (autumn 1999): 733-34.

[In the following review of Pawels Briefe, Hunt finds shortcomings in Maron's “self-righteous” tone and lack of compassion.]

Since 1981, Monika Maron has published three novels and a volume of essays. Pawels Briefe (Pawel's Letters) is her fifth major publication. Rather than “a family history,” as the subtitle purports, the volume comprises family stories, reflections on remembering and forgetting, the portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship, and, inevitably, a tracing of German political developments and how they affected the family. However, one comes away from this reading wondering just how much all that has to do with Pawel's letters. They do not seem tightly connected to the whole.

Pawel is the autobiographer's maternal grandfather, and, as the only Jewish family member, he was deported and murdered. That is the significant and horrible fact about this family which probably inspired the author to embark on this book. Such a background would have been basis and reason to write a family's turbulent history, yet Pawels Briefe turns out to be less that than the telling of sometimes banal incidents of day-to-day living, of life during war, and the denial of unusual circumstances during those times. Even if this was a survival strategy of the parent generation under Hitler, more than mere abstract recording would have given the book more color and flavor.

Maron is at her best when philosophizing about human tendencies in remembering and forgetting. Here she succeeds in some fine passages of prose. Unfortunately, they are few and all too brief. The author tends to return hurriedly to the recording of this and that incident, delivering, in rather dry and brittle language, an often confusing report on the family. The constant back and forth in time sends the reader to search again for dates; the wealth of names and the flurry of activity make for an unclear picture. Between all this, Pawel's letters from the ghetto to his cancer-stricken wife and to his adult children are quoted, as if in an attempt to anchor the stories somehow in that other existence. The letters are loving, sad, compassionate, and add the moving dimension to this work that the author herself is not able to bring across in her reporting style.

There are unusual facts about this family: The grandfather who had converted from Judaism to the Baptist religion and the grandmother from Catholicism to Baptism; the Polish-German connection and the migrations of the family; the persistent communism of Hella, the mother, and the anticommunism of Monika, the daughter; and, finally, the mother's second marriage to a high GDR functionary and a move from West Berlin into East Berlin. But somehow, the bits and pieces recorded do not hang together with the greater whole. The book is far less about Pawel than about his daughter Hella, but, in the last analysis, it is really about Monika Maron. She searches her roots but does not find how the being that came to be her emerges. As if in an attempt to dissociate herself from the East, the author stresses over and over again the West Berlin residence on Schillerpromenade in Neukölln. There is much self-explanation and self-justification, always viewed in and from the present. There is an almost annoying overeagerness to explain her early opposition to the GDR regime, her mother's headstrong pro-regime stand, and to explain away eight months of connection to the Stasi (the state-security organization) and almost any to her stepfather, the Interior Minister, whose name the author after all adopted and has kept to this day. A faint attempt to connect with her biological father failed, and her mother's ideology is criticized in order for the daughter to appear as the winner. The reader cannot shed the suspicion of an “I told you so” attitude that says: Look at me! I left the GDR in 1988!

Questions remain. Why not earlier? What did Maron do, politically, up to age forty-seven if she was all opposition? Why this indirect self-praise through criticism of the parent generation? Where was her activism if she claims in 1978 to have been anti-GDR for a long time (“längst”) already, and could this have been precisely during the years she was a party member of the SED? Such contradictions also exist in the portrayal of the mother: how can her political views be so irritating to the daughter if Hella is said to have “political ignorance.”

The subject matter and material of Pawels Briefe are not without interest; but the book lacks passion and compassion, the style is humorless, and the attitude somewhat self-righteous. Maron seems to be aware of that. Her arrogance, she says, was developed of necessity, in self-defense—evidently of her image as an author. Judging from his letters, Pawel must have been a compassionate person of much integrity. How would this simple man, a tailor, have looked upon the development of his granddaughter? Although she tries to imagine this man she does not remember in real life, that is a question she does not ask herself.

The book is enhanced by illustrations and an attractive photographic layout by the author's son, Jonas Maron, who in this way has an objective, distant, yet present part in the work. He has the final word to his mother about grandmother Hella: “That's the way she is. Just let her be.” Perhaps this is a move away from judgmental opinions toward tolerance among members of a German family during politically turbulent times.

Stephen Brockmann (essay date 1999)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2156

SOURCE: Brockmann, Stephen. “The Defense of Childhood and the Guilt of the Fathers.” In Literature and German Reunification, pp. 137-62. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

[In the following excerpt, Brockmann discusses the emergence of “father literature” in the former GDR and identifies Stille Zeile Sechs and Animal Triste as examples of this genre.]

Whereas it had taken three decades for father literature to appear in the Federal Republic, father-son and father-daughter literature from writers of the former GDR began to appear almost immediately. In one typical response, the writer Gabriele Eckart, born in 1954, wrote an angry open letter to her father, a former minor party official, in which she accused him of brutal mistreatment. Eckart insisted that her father's cruelty had caused her to remain forever at the emotional level of a five-year-old: “To look at me, I am a grown-up woman; how could they know that because of your guilt I am condemned to remain a child?”1 Eckart remembered the chief reason for her failure to grow up as an incident when she was five years old and her mother had been forced to go to the hospital. Eckart had been happily wearing braids, but as soon as he was alone with her, her father had taken a pair of scissors and cut off the braids. Eckart was to remember this incident for the rest of her life, for it showed that it was not she herself but her father who controlled her image. Hence she began to hate herself as someone created in her father's image: “Although people say that I look like mother, I know that is not true, I look like you.” Because of this similarity between herself and the object of her thwarted love, Eckart writes that she “was disgusted by my own body, which exuded your sweat,” but that the similarity of bodies was secondary to the similarity of thought patterns: “The structure of my thinking is equivalent to yours, but its contents are one hundred and eighty degrees opposed to your thought; what that means is that I am nothing but a kind of negative image of yourself.”2 The incident in which Eckart lost her braids becomes for her the symbol of a castration which condemns her forever to being an impotent “slit Indian” (Schlitzindianer), as her father spitefully refers to women. Eckart's father has, she believes, taken away from her all power to grow and change: “Because of this brutal intervention in my mirror image, development was arrested for me; in forty years I will probably be buried as a five-year-old.”3 For Eckart her own individual trauma has significance for the entire GDR, whose population, she claims, is also “inwardly deformed.”4

The most demanding generational exploration to be produced immediately after German reunification was Drawert's Spiegelland: Ein deutscher Monolog, a remorseless attack on two generations of German authoritarians and on the entirety of GDR life. As Drawert wrote in an epilogue at the end of the book, “The object of thought was the world of the fathers, it was about this that a report was to be made, about how lost it made one and how lost it was—as a ruling order, as language, as damaged life.”5 At the center of the book is a boy who is never named, but who appears to be an earlier incarnation of the narrative voice that says “ich” in each chapter, and who also resembles Drawert himself in many ways. The boy has a father who is a Communist official and a grandfather who was a Nazi; what binds the two together is an authoritarian pedagogy characteristic of the entire country, in which, the narrator argues, all educational institutions serve the cause not of liberation but of stupefaction. “We were born and became slaves immediately.”6 Drawert's novel is an indictment of German fathers and grandfathers and an anguished plea for individual freedom; significantly, Drawert dedicated the book to his own two sons.

Another important reckoning with the generation of the fathers was Monika Maron's semi-autobiographical book Stille Zeile Sechs [Silent Close No. 6] (1991). Anna Kuhn has dubbed this book “the first East German Tochterroman (daughter book),” suggesting that it exemplifies “a subgenre of the Väterromane (father books) so popular in West Germany in the 1970s.”7 Born in 1941 and therefore technically not part of the postwar generation, Maron was the stepdaughter of GDR Interior Minister (1955-1963) Paul Maron. Her novel relates the story of the forty-two-year-old writer Rosalind Polkowski, whose task it is, shortly before his death in 1985, to take dictation from Herbert Beerenbaum, a former high party official at Berlin's Humboldt University.8 Beerenbaum is working on his memoirs, but his shaky right hand makes it impossible for him to write. For Polkowski, Beerenbaum becomes the incarnation of an entire generation of Communist fathers who, in fighting against Nazi totalitarianism, ultimately paved the way for a totalitarianism of their own making. Coming from humble, working-class backgrounds, these fathers ultimately fought their way to positions of power in the GDR's major institutions; but they never escaped their origins. Polkowski's feelings toward Beerenbaum become inextricably bound up with her feelings toward her own deceased father, also a narrow-minded Communist—in this case a school principal. The lasting trauma of Polkowski's life is her father's failure to love her. Wrapped up in his own ideological straitjacket and chained to an educational career that did not suit him intellectually, the elder Polkowski had ignored his daughter even when she tried desperately to please him. Hence her ultimate opposition to the Communist regime originated not in a mature recognition of its inefficiency and authoritarianism but rather in a childish desire for attention from her father. Since the young Polkowski could not get her father's attention when she tried to please him, she went out of her way to annoy him by siding with his ideological enemies. What made the little girl's situation so difficult emotionally was that beneath her hatred for her father—and, much later, for the father-substitute Beerenbaum—was a deep and abiding longing for love. As the middle-aged Polkowski reflects, hatred comes “when one has loved and not been loved in return.”9 Also problematic for Polkowski as a school girl was the fact that her private and public life ran together because of her father's prominent position as principal of the very school in which she was a student. In Maron's world the German family is also a political problem. Polkowski believes that her father and his generation of “victors” in World War Two have ruined her own life and the lives of her generation. “Everything belongs to Beerenbaum” and his cohorts, she reflects; “even I belonged to them.”10 As Polkowski shouts at Beerenbaum during the climactic confrontation between them that precipitates the old man's heart attack and death,

Your own life was not enough for you, it was too mean, so you used up our life, too. You are cannibals, slave owners with an army of torturers.11

As part of her work Polkowski must transcribe and type the words that Beerenbaum dictates to her; and even though she vowed long ago not to let her rational thoughts interfere with her employment—not to work with her head for money, as she likes to think of it—she cannot help but take issue with the one-sidedness of the old man's memories. Her work with Beerenbaum forces Polkowski to relive her unhappy childhood and once again to subordinate herself to the dictates of the older generation which she has spent her life trying to escape. Ultimately Polkowski can no longer tolerate this humiliation and explodes with anger at the old man. When she goes to his funeral it is not so much to mourn him as to make sure “that he was truly buried and gone from this world.”12 As she throws dirt into his grave, she muses: “This is the sound I came to hear.”13 At the age of forty-two Polkowski hopes that she is finally free of Beerenbaum, of her own father, and of the generation that they represent. And yet her triumph is ambiguous: at the end of the novel Beerenbaum's son, a high-ranking officer in the Stasi, carries out his father's last wish by handing her a packet that contains the very manuscript she had spent months typing for the dead man. Even as Polkowski promises herself that she will destroy or hide the manuscript, it is clear that Beerenbaum's words, transcribed by her, still exercise a magical power. As Fritz Rudolf Fries remarked in a 1992 review of Stille Zeile Sechs, “Like the author herself, this generation will not be able to free itself from these papers.”14 Through the words that he has dictated to her, Beerenbaum has power over Polkowski even in death.

Maron's obsession with the harm done to a younger generation by its fathers is also clearly demonstrated in her next novel. Primarily the story of a love gone wrong, Animal Triste (1996) also features a middle-aged woman who believes that her father is at least partially responsible for her ruined life, and who makes explicit parallels between herself and the entire generation of children born to World War Two soldiers. Life for her generation would have been much better, she suggests, if their fathers had never come home:

They should not have been allowed to come back. Back then … they should have left us alone with our mothers. … Somewhere, far from their sons, they should have found a place where they could have cured their injured bodies and their branded warrior souls.15

Because of her disgust with her father and her rejection of her mother's subservience to paternal authority, Maron's character learns to hate her own femininity, which she associates with weakness. As Lewis has suggested, femininity in this novel “becomes inseparable from compliance with a patriarchal order and with submission and subjugation to the will of the father.”16 In words strikingly similar to Eckart's description of her own real-life experience, Maron has her first-person narrator declare: “My naked body in its unequivocal designation was disgusting to me.”17 The battle between two generations is epitomized for Maron's heroine in the story of a male classmate from her university days who commits suicide because his father, a high military official, declares that all students who fail to learn Marxist-Leninist ideology with sufficient eagerness should have their bones broken. Upon hearing this declaration, the son obediently places his neck under the wheels of an oncoming train. For the middle-aged woman remembering this incident, the son was simply carrying out a judgment already made by his own father. Her hatred of her own father makes it impossible for her ever to live happily with men. After years of marriage she leaves her husband, who never becomes a character in the novel, and she contends that her life with him was so insignificant that it is not worth telling. When, at the end of the novel, the man whom she claims to love is about to desert his own wife and move in with her, she pushes him under the wheels of an oncoming bus, as if executing upon him the same judgment that her former classmate had executed upon himself. It is clear that what the narrator thinks is a straightforward love story is also a story about revenge: on males in general, and on her lover as a representative of her father's gender. Significantly, the punishment that Maron's character chooses for herself after she has murdered her lover is the self-punishment of Oedipus, the father-killer: blindness. For Maron, female impotence is the result of castration carried out by fathers, and that castration demands murderous revenge.


  1. Gabriele Eckart, “Brief an den Vater,” europäische ideen 81 (1993), 19-25 (p. 21).

  2. Ibid., p. 24.

  3. Ibid., p. 21.

  4. Ibid., p. 25.

  5. Drawert, Spiegelland, p. 156.

  6. Ibid., p. 14.

  7. Anna K. Kuhn, “Berlin as Locus of Terror: Gegenwartsbewältigung in Berlin Texts since the Wende,” in Barbara Becker-Cantarino (ed.), Berlin in Focus: Cultural Transformations in Germany (Westport: Praeger, 1996), pp. 159-185 (p. 170).

  8. Rosalind Polkowski is also the heroine of Maron's previous novel, Die Überläuferin (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1986).

  9. Monika Maron, Stille Zeile Sechs (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1991), p. 182. I have modified the English translation which appears in Silent Close No. 6, trans. David Newton Marinelli (Columbia, Louisiana: Readers International, 1993), p. 153. For a useful analysis of Maron's development as a writer in the 1980s and 1990s, see Brigitte Rossbacher, “The Status of State and Subject: Reading Monika Maron from Flugasche to Animal Triste,” in Robert Weninger and Brigitte Rossbacher (eds.), Wendezeiten Zeitenwende: Positionsbestimmungen zur deutschsprachigen Literatur 1945-1995 (Tübingen: Stauffenberg, 1997), pp. 193-214.

  10. Maron, Stille, p. 118; I have modified the translation which appears in Silent, p. 97.

  11. Maron, Silent, p. 174.

  12. Maron, Stille, p. 34; I have modified the translation which appears in Silent, p. 27.

  13. Maron, Silent, p. 180.

  14. Cited in Wehdeking, Einheit, p. 37.

  15. Monika Maron, Animal Triste (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1996), p. 68.

  16. Alison Lewis, “Re-Membering the Barbarian: Memory and Repression in Monika Maron's Animal Triste,The German Quarterly 71: 1 (1998), 30-46 (p. 36).

  17. Maron, Animal, p. 74.

Erlis Wickersham (review date spring 2001)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 479

SOURCE: Wickersham, Erlis. Review of Quer uber die Gleise, by Monika Maron. World Literature Today 75, no. 2 (spring 2001): 370.

[In the following review, Wickersham compliments Maron's essays in Quer uber die Gleise, calling the collection “clever and readable.”]

Monika Maron has been a controversial figure since the reunification of Germany because of her alleged collusion with the East German regime. She is a prolific writer and essayist, whose latest novel Pawels Briefe: Eine Familiengeschichte, appeared in 1999. Her previous collection of essays, Nach Maβgabe meiner Begreifungskraft, was published in 1993. Most of the items in Quer uber die Gleise have appeared in newspapers; some are the texts of speeches. They are less defensive than the entries of the earlier collection, yet they attempt to situate Maron among those who merit understanding rather than censure for the years spent in the East.

These essays are clever and readable. They show a lively imagination and a fine command of language. Two of them, “Vier Archetypen” and the parable “Zwei Bruder,” are particularly direct presentations of cliches about the attitudes of Germans on both sides after reunification. Both reveal glaring flaws in the stances taken at that time. While the first concentrates on attitudes, the second uses the family setting to reveal the weakness and futility of mutual censure.

Another notable essay among a fascinating group of nineteen is an exuberant all-out attack on selected reviewers who commented in newspapers after the publication of Pawels Briefe. Titled “Rollenwechsel: Uber einen Text und seine Kritiker,” it is particularly harsh toward selected women reviewers who failed to read the book accurately. It is most interesting to read a writer's documented refutation of her critics. There should be more such countercriticism. In the process, Maron discusses many contemporary themes—for example, the failings of the younger generation of European women (“Girlies”), the Stasi, Peter Zadek's defection from Berlin, and Uwe Johnson in the East Germany of her youth (“Ein Schicksalsbuch”).

It has been observed by German critics that many of these essays treat the theme of remembrance. More precisely, it is the failure of memory that interests Maron, not simply her own but also her mother's and that of the culture as a whole. The collection ends strongly. The final two essays, “Eigentlich sind wir nett” and “Ich will, was alle wollen,” are affecting and typically direct. The former sketches an encounter on a train during which the author cleverly defends the personality of the Berliner against a West German. The last contribution is a deeply affecting human reverie on the theme of aging.

The hallmark of these selections is their unmistakable sincerity and the agony of spirit which has preceded their articulation. Beyond the talent and perspicacity of this author is the person making a dignified plea for acceptance and understanding. It will be the hardened reader indeed who fails to be convinced of the collection's merit.


Principal Works


Further Reading