- Kontroverses Erbe und Innovation. Die Novelle Die Reisebegegnung von Anna Seghers im literaturpolitischen Kontext der DDR der siebziger Jahre
This book can be seen as a welcome addition to GDR literature and culture studies. Its thesis is carefully conceived, its argumentation clear and engaging. The close readings provide an interesting contrast to what is often the given fare: on the one hand, [End Page 250] select GDR literature read without sociopolitical contexts; on the other hand, discourse analyses that obviate poetic structures by reducing a given text to the level of ideology. In her study Anette Horn takes the approach—uncommon, but useful for the given purpose—of grounding attention to matters of culture in an extensive discussion of a single literary work, one that was both representative of and influential for larger developments during the Honecker era of cultural liberalization in the early 1970s: Anna Seghers's Erzählung "Die Reisebegegnung," first published together with "Sagen von Unirdischen" and "Der Treffpunkt" in the author's collection Sonderbare Begegnungen (Aufbau Verlag, 1973). As Horn writes in her introduction, she sets forth to analyze this text "nicht als isoliertes 'Werk' einer 'Autorin,' sondern als Symptom der Möglichkeiten und Grenzen des innovativen Schreibens in der DDR zu Beginn der siebziger Jahre" (7).
Seghers's narrative creates a fictional meeting between E.T.A. Hoffmann, Nikolai Gogol, and Franz Kafka in a Prague café at the beginning of the twentieth century, that is to say, at the height of literary modernism. Horn interprets the invented conversation about literature among these writers as a "literarisch verfremdete, allegorische Darstellung der Erbe-Debatte in der DDR" (9). The first of the book's five chapters is devoted to the elaboration of this issue as well as an accounting of intertextualities that point from Seghers's narrative back to pertinent works by Hoffmann, Gogol, and Kafka. Chapter 2 guides us through the "Auseinandersetzung mit dem Erbebegriff" (31) starting with the Volksfront policies of the 1930s and debates about realism between Seghers and Lukács, and ending with the revaluation of romanticism in the 1970s. Chapter 3 concerns categorical definitions of socialist realism (Volkstümlichkeit, Parteilichkeit etc.) and the extent to which Seghers's narrative deviates in favor of what Horn calls a "polyvalenten Realismus" (90). Chapter 4 considers the representative nature and function of the narrative's three literary characters in light of the controversies surrounding the actual writers Hoffmann, Gogol, and Kafka and their works—belonging respectively to German Romanticism, Russian Realism and Prague school modernism—within the history of Marxist criticism from Lukács, Benjamin et al. to the Prague Kafka conference of 1963 and beyond. Chapter 5 argues that poetic elements of the fantastic contained in Seghers's narrative—as articulated by its three literary figures—break open categories of time and place that are central to realism. Thus Horn interprets Seghers's "Autorschaft" as an "Intertext, der, von den politischen Entwicklungen der DDR in den siebziger Jahren geprägt, höchst eigenwillige Abweichungen von den Grundsätzen der bisherigen Literaturpolitik markiert" (163). Horn's half-page "Schlußfolgerung," more a forecast than a conclusion, shifts the focus from what was previously argued to a younger generation of GDR writers. She asserts—without reference to specific works—that Christa Wolf, Günter Kunert, Stephan Hermlin et al. turned "das kritische Potential der romantischen Phantasie und der reflektierenden Subjektivität gegen die Parteiideologie" (165).
Though Horn admits that her focus is neither on biography as it concerns authorship nor on textual interpretation per se, but on the "Möglichkeit der Produktion bestimmter Texte in einem historischen Augenblick" (7), closer attention to these matters might have enhanced discussion of the issues involved. Such attention, however, would complicate, and in some cases overturn, the neat parallels and oppositions established here between a given literary work and the development of cultural debates and policies culminating in the "innovative" or definitive "historical moment" of the [End Page 251] early 1970s. While the...