The Past, Politics, and Prose: Memories of War in Early Twenty-first Century German-language Novels
Zimmer, Anna Elizabeth
This dissertation explores how early twenty–first century German–language novels employ diverse literary representations of World War II (WWII) memory to narrate memories of post–1990 violent conflicts and wars such as the Rwandan civil war and genocide (1990–1994), dissolution of Yugoslavia (1990–2008), NATO mission in Kosovo (1998–1999), terrorist attacks of 9/11 (2001), and Iraq War (2003–2011). I demonstrate how German, Austrian, and Swiss authors problematize the evocation of historical events commonly found in political rhetoric, while also mobilizing violent memories to inform moral judgments in the present. Informed by the interdisciplinary field of memory studies, my research demonstrates how multiperspectival literary texts utilize the past to confront current social issues and narrate more recent events in order to recall forgotten histories. The selected novels narrate complex transnational memories while also acknowledging and problematizing the continued impact of official national memories upon domestic and foreign policy. I assert that while such a cosmopolitanization of violent memory (Levy and Sznaider) pushes readers to imagine more just futures, the novels also expose impediments to justice and acknowledge limitations of literature.The selected texts present the reader with models of memory that situate present–day German–speaking Europe not only in a diverse collection of European WWII memories, but also in a historically longer and geographically broader mnemonic network. Informed by the concept of screen memory (Freud), my comparative analysis of Nicol Ljubić’s Meeresstille (2010) and Lukas Bärfuss’ Hundert Tage (2008) reveals the international ramifications of German and Swiss post–war identities and elucidates how memory can foster intercultural understanding or conceal historical specificity. In my analysis of Ludwig Laher’s documentary novel, Verfahren (2011), I create a working definition of the documentary novel in order explore how documentary techniques and the articulation of multidirectional memories (Rothberg) of asylum seeking in the 1930s and early 2000s can educate the readers about present–day social issues. Finally, I argue that through the articulation of numerous memories of loss from New York, Hamburg, and Baghdad, Thomas Lehr’s September. Fata Morgana (2010), reveals that post–9/11 societies, like their memories, are not predestined to conflict.
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