Born under Auschwitz

Born under Auschwitz

Melancholy Traditions in Postwar German Literature

Mary Cosgrove

Uncovers the literary traditions of melancholy that inform major works of postwar and contemporary German literature dealing with the Holocaust and the Nazi period.
In German Studies the literary phenomenon of melancholy, which has a longstanding and diverse history in European letters, has typically been associated with the Early Modern and Baroque periods, Romanticism, and the crisis of modernity. This association, alongside the dominant psychoanalytical view of melancholy in German memory discourses since the 1960s, has led to its neglect as an important literary mode in postwar German literature, a situation the present book seeks to redress by identifying and analyzing epochal postwar works that use melancholy traditions to comment on German history in the aftermath of the Holocaust. It focuses on five writers - Günter Grass, Wolfgang Hildesheimer, Peter Weiss, W. G. Sebald, and Iris Hanika - who reflect on the legacy of Auschwitz as intellectuals trying to negotiate a relationship to the past based on the stigma of belonging to a perpetrator collective (Grass, Sebald, Hanika) or, broadly speaking, to the victim collective (Weiss, Hildesheimer), in order to develop a melancholy ethics of memory for the Holocaust and the Nazi past. It will appeal to scholars and students of German Studies, Comparative Literature, Cultural Studies, Cultural Memory, and Holocaust Studies.

Mary Cosgrove is Reader in German at the University of Edinburgh.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: In Defense of Melancholy
The Diseased Imagination: Perpetrator Melancholy in Günter Grass's Aus dem Tagebuch einer Schnecke and Beim Häuten der Zwiebel
The Disenchanted Mind: Victim Melancholy in Wolfgang Hildesheimer's Tynset and Masante
The Feminine Holocaust: Gender, Melancholy, and Memory in Peter Weiss's Die Ästhetik des Widerstands
From the Weltschmerz of the Postwar Penitent to Capitalism and the "Racial Century": Melancholy Diversity in W. G. Sebald's Work
Epilogue: Death of the Male Melancholy Genius: From Vergangenheitsbewältigung to Vergangenheitsbewirtschaftung in Iris Hanika's Das Eigentliche


[D]etailed and cogent . . . . Throughout the study, textual analysis is enhanced by careful attention to the literary, political, and cultural context, and by details drawn from archival material about the writers' knowledge and discussion of melancholy traditions. Cosgrove's strident engagement with earlier critical reception is particularly noteworthy, not least as her study responds to a lack of scholarly interest in post-war Holocaust memory and melancholy, an association that she shows to be worthy of further attention. . . . The monograph is an original and serious work which provides a highly detailed perspective on post-war writing about the poetics of remembrance after the Holocaust. As such, it makes an important contribution to the extensive body of recent criticism on post-war German memory culture. MODERN LANGUAGE REVIEW

[The book's] greatest contribution is to emphasize the variety of traditions at play, in particular Christian, Greek, and Renaissance modes of melancholy discourse beyond the better-known psychological and medical definition of the term, most notably as derived from Freud. . . . Recommended. CHOICE

The [book's] greatest strength . . . is its careful and erudite analysis of a range of thematic intricacies, such as the distinctive treatments of melancholy depending on whether the narrator (or author) speaks from the perspective of the perpetrator or the victim, as a man or a woman, as an individual or a collective, etc. Clearly, Cosgrove's analysis goes along with a keen analytical grasp of the theoretical and conceptual issues involved in the problem of melancholy. . . . The book is an important, precise, and thorough study that breaks new ground and advances our understanding of a set of major German novels in the social and cultural context of memory studies. Overall this is a graceful work of remarkable erudition that will be greatly appreciated as a landmark study about both postwar German literary history and theory, and memory discourse in the humanities. MONATSHEFTE

Cosgrove compels her readers to identify contemporary literary works that, through engagement in subversive melancholy traditions, are able to stave o? inauthentic and indi?erent means of mourning and remembrance of the Holocaust . . . . Scholars of environmental, gender, German, and Holocaust Studies will ?nd this volume . . . to be a catalyst for renewed close readings and an engaging impulse for future research. SYMPOSIUM

Author Bio

Mary Cosgrove is lecturer in German at the University of Edinburgh.

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