Shifting Perspectives

Shifting Perspectives

East German Autobiographical Narratives before and after the End of the GDR

Dennis Tate


Camden House



First treatment of a conspicuously East German feature in today's German literature, that of autobiographical writing -- and rewriting.
A striking feature of today's German literature is the survival of an East German subculture characterized by its authors' self-reflexive concern with their own lives, not only in texts labeled as autobiography but also those in the more ambiguous territory of what Christa Wolf has called "subjective authenticity." Dennis Tate provides the first detailed account of this phenomenon: its origins in the 1930s' exile debates, its evolution during the GDR's lifespan, and its manifestations in the work of five East German authors still widely read today: Brigitte Reimann, Franz Fühmann, Stefan Heym, Günter de Bruyn, and Christa Wolf. Tate shows how the preoccupation with self arose from the unusually turbulent circumstances in which this generation has lived. Having succumbed early to the temptation to simplify their life stories for misguided educational purposes, these authors have repeatedly reconstructed their personal and political identities as their perspectives on the past have shifted. Tate shows the importance of viewing their autobiographical writing as a multilayered historical process, exposing problems with canonical accounts of East German literature and enabling texts published under GDR censorship to be properly appreciated for the first time.

Dennis Tate is Professor of German Studies at the University of Bath, UK.


August 2007
275 pages
9x6 in
Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture
ISBN: 9781571133724
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Camden House
BISAC LIT004170, BIO010000, HIS014000
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Table of Contents

Introduction: East German Autobiographical Prose: Challenging Conventional Genre Distinctions
Autobiographical Writing in the East German Context and Beyond
Brigitte Reimann: The Constraints of First-Person Fiction
Franz Fühmann: The Deconstruction of an "Exemplary" Biography
Stefan Heym: Strategies of Self-Concealment in Fictional and Autobiographical Mode
Günter de Bruyn: From the "Lies" of Fiction to the "Truth" of Autobiography?
Christa Wolf: "Subjective Authenticity" in Practice: An Evolving Autobiographical Project


A valuable addition to the growing number of studies engaged in rethinking East German literary history and reassessing the categories with which that literature is read. MONATSHEFTE

Tate focuses on ... prose works that combine self-reflexive narrative and autobiographical subject matter. ... His highly original study shows how this particular form of prose writing became a vehicle for each writer's self-exploration and self-protection, a creative response to the various forms of political turbulence each experienced before and after the end of the GDR. CHOICE

The study reveals profound knowledge of the topic and will enrich in significant areas our understanding of East German literature, especially after 1990. Because it is written with wit and courage and opens new avenues in GDR literature, it will provoke discussion if the study receives the attention it deserves. DEUTSCHLAND ARCHIV

This thoroughly researched monograph arrives at a very convincing reassessment of (the) development in East German literature from stereotypical socialist realist autobiographical writing to modernist multi-layered narratives. It can be recommended as a significant and stimulating contribution to scholarship on the autobiographical genre in particular and on GDR and postunification German literature in general.GLOSSEN

(Offers) a contribution to the collective biography of the GDR's second generation.. This literary generation, which Tate sees exemplified by Christa Wolf, faced the task of accounting for what Franz Fühmann famously described as the path to socialism via Auschwitz. Represented by Wolf, Fühmann, Brigitte Reimann, and others, this generation is largely responsible for the dynamic reception of East German literature in the west. GERMAN STUDIES REVIEW

In its detailed interpretation of primary texts, archival sources and cultural-political contexts, Tate's study is never anything less than utterly authoritative and persuasive, and that in a style which is always fluent and engaging. Through its rare combination of academic rigour and genuine critical sympathy Tate's book seems certain to become a standard work on East German life writing. JOURNAL OF EUROPEAN STUDIES

Author Bio

Dennis Tate is professor of German Literature at the University of Bath.

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