Inscription and Rebellion

Inscription and Rebellion

Illness and the Symptomatic Body in East German Literature

Sonja E. Klocke


Camden House



Employs research on the GDR's healthcare system along with feminist and queer theory to get at socialism's legacy, revealing a specifically East German literary convention: employment of "symptomatic female bodies" to either enforce or rebel against political and social norms.

The healthcare system of the German Democratic Republic, based on Soviet models, reflected the importance the socialist state assigned the health of both its citizens and of the metaphorical national body meant to represent and promulgate the nation's political vitality. Yet many East German literary writers depicted characters ailing and under medical care, and even after the country's dissolution in 1990, writers who had lived there continued to portray sickness and the GDR healthcare system prominently in their fiction.
This book offers an innovative reading of such texts - both by the GDR's most prominent writer, Christa Wolf, and by younger writers raised in the GDR but active mainly after 1989 - employing historical research on the healthcare system and feminist and queer theory to get at socialism's legacy. It develops a new approach to East German literature that underscores the impact of forty years of Marxist-Leninist thought on post-GDR poetics. Intertwining aesthetics with politics, the book employs the Foucauldian concept of the "symptomatic body," in this case a female character's body on which historical and political events inscribe physical or psychological illness, in so doing revealing a specifically East German literary convention: employment of such "symptomatic bodies" to either enforce or rebel against political and social norms.

Sonja E. Klocke is Assistant Professor of German Studies and Affiliated Faculty in Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


November 2015
258 pages
9x6 in
Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture
ISBN: 9781571139337
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Camden House
BISAC LIT004170, SOC032000, HIS014000
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Related Titles

Table of Contents

Disease, Death, and Desire Pre-1989: Christa Wolf's Symptomatic GDR Bodies
Christa Wolf's Goodbye to Socialism?: Illness, Healing, and Faith since 1990
Retrospective Imagination in Post-GDR Literature: Gender, Violence, and Politics in Medical Discourses
Haunted in Post-Wall Germany: Sickness, Symptomatic Bodies, and the Specters of the GDR


Synthesizing historiographic research and literary analysis, Sonja E. Klocke's timely monograph offers a powerful interdisciplinary reading of the relationship between (East) German literature, social discourse, and the politics of health. GERMANIC REVIEW (Caroline Summers)

This extremely informative study is on the whole very sound and solid and represents a gain particularly for university teaching. . . . (It)demonstrate(s) impressive knowledge of pan-German (social) history. LITERATURKRITIK.DE

Klocke's combination of nuanced literary analysis and historical context demonstrates a particularly East German treatment of illness and the 'symptomatic' body in the work of Christa Wolf that sheds light on everyday conditions in the GDR and has since found its way both stylistically and thematically into contemporary prose by post-GDR writers. She presents excellent insights not only into the earlier and later works of Wolf, whom she regards as a 'historiographer' of the GDR, but also into the politicization of health under socialism and how literature interacted and interacts with medical discourse. JOURNAL OF EUROPEAN STUDIES

(A) lucidly written and convincingly argued study of selected literary works that critically portray aspects of GDR society and/or challenge representations in post-unification Germany that reduce the GDR to a "Unrechtsstaat" (a state without rule of law). . . . (S)uccessfully claims a space for the continued critical study of East German literature and culture in the field of German studies. WOMEN IN GERMAN NEWSLETTER (Friederike Eigler)

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