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Reviewed by:
  • East, West, and Others: The Third World in Postwar German Literature
  • John E. Davidson
Arlene A. Teraoka. East, West, and Others: The Third World in Postwar German Literature. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1996. 250 pp.

Arlene A. Teraoka’s East, West, and Others examines the attempts of leftist or left-liberal writers “to envision a non-hegemonic mode of encounter with non-German others” in their literature after 1945. Teraoka contends that the issue is not whether these authors tend toward Eurocentrism, for they must necessarily do so given the social, political, and cultural position from which they write; rather, the interesting and instructive concern is with “how and why they speak” in the manner they do. The project of East, West, and Others, then, seeks to move beyond the images and content of these works to examine the strategic use (deliberate and/or symptomatic) of “the Third World” to meet cultural and political demands.

Teraoka approaches this project through close, skillful readings of texts by (primarily) canonical authors, paying particular attention to the way that progress and enlightenment are aligned with European [End Page 467] traditions to which the “other” must aspire. She argues convincingly (if a bit predictably) that Anna Seghers shows no awareness of the problems in representing European tradition as the key to emancipation for inhabitants of Latin America. Concentrating primarily on The Light on the Gallows (1961), the last work of Seghers’s first “Caribbean Trilogy,” this study uncovers a mind-body opposition in which “natives” only become fully human and revolutionary as they take on enlightened ideals and shed the chains of a body-centered existence. Importantly, it is not the orthodoxy of Seghers’s communism that traps her in the strategies of domination she hopes to contest, but rather an adherence to Enlightenment traditions as the corrective to the Nazi’s murderous reign of bureaucratized irrationalism that sent her into exile.

A similar snare entraps Peter Weiss, who attempts to come to grips with National-Socialist rule, the war, and, most especially, the Holocaust by turning to the Third World. Teraoka reserves particularly harsh criticism for Weiss’s project, which she claims both universalizes the Holocaust (robbing it of the specificity needed for real critical engagement) and fails to interrogate the radicality of “choosing” marginality as a political strategy in the wake of the Holocaust. The use of documentary drama in Weiss’s “global theater,” (specifically The Song of the Lusitanian Bogey [1967] and Vietnam Discourse [1968]) develops a parallel between (European) Enlightenment and (Third-World) revolution that in essence allows Western intellectuals to have their rebellious cake and eat it, too, quite comfortably.

In the work of GDR dramatists set in Latin America, Teraoka finds the role of such “paradigmatic intellectuals” tied directly to their role in advancing European hegemony. One of the more surprising (and well-supported) claims in Teraoka’s book is that, regardless of being written by “career intellectuals” (Claus Hammel and Peter Hacks) or authors more openly critical of the East-German state (Volker Braun and Heiner Müller), these Latin American texts maintain that Europe cannot provide an (intellectual) avant garde for the Third-World revolution, not even from the Socialist tradition. Ultimately these “Solidarity Plays” have much more to do with a commentary about Europe (Western and Eastern) than with Latin America, a commentary softening the critic’s stance on the firmly Eurocentric instrumentalization of the “other” in these works. [End Page 468]

Teraoka’s sympathies clearly reside with those authors who eschew a firm position on either side of the Us/Them divide: Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Heiner Müller. While using the Third World as means of criticizing contemporary Europe, neither of these authors hold that they can get outside of their own European identity by doing so. Thanks to his “sovereign irony,” Enzensberger wields a double-edged sword: for example, his critique of the Western (neo-) colonial and imperial project goes hand in hand with his critique of Cuba, and he never forgets the difference between himself as a “European and the rice farmers of the Third World.” In Enzensberger’s work, poets become deceivers in the European tradition, but...

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