restricted access Responses to Christa Wolf: Critical Essays (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Marilyn Sibley Fries, ed. Responses to Christa Wolf: Critical Essays, Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1989. 418 pp. $45.00.

Published in 1989, before the reunification of Germany, this volume collects nineteen critical essays, one interview, an introduction, and a very useful chronology and bibliography, all aimed at presenting a variety of perspectives on the works of Germany's (East, West or unified) most well-known woman writer. Although intended for a general English-reading audience, this book provides insights that should stir Christa Wolf experts as well (particularly in those essays concerned with Wolf's later works). Some of the essays derive from a 1982 Modern Language Association special session on Wolf; three earlier seminal articles by German critics (GDR critics Hans-Georg Werner and Hans Kaufmann, and FRG critic Heinrich Mohr) were translated from the German to represent a point of depature for later investigations of Wolf's oeuvre.

Fries's introduction does a good job of situating Wolf in the German Democratic Republic as well as in a broader literary context. She provides a brief biographical sketch and a summary/critical commentary of the major items of Wolf's corpus up to Cassandra (1983). (This volume was already in press by the time Wolf's Störfall [1987, Accident, 1989] appeared.) Fries then allows Wolf to speak for herself in the 1974 interview with Hans Kaufmann, which introduces the concept of "subjective authenticity," a key term in Wolf's work. It is a nice touch to let Wolf set her own tone before the critics introduce their several perspectives. [End Page 318] Kaufmann's response to the interview recording his reservations about Wolf's definitions of "modern prose" follows.

Given the limited space of this review, it is not possible to comment on each of the nineteen essays—except to say that they are all of very high quality. Overall patterns emerge among them, however. First, there is a strongly feminist bent to the volume—appropriately I would say given the growing concern in Wolf's own work since Christa T. with the status and role of women. A number of studies discuss Wolf's relationship to other women writers, including Virginia Woolf (Crick), Anna Seghers (Romero, Peucker), Ingeborg Bachmann (Fehervary, Lennox, Werner), Günderrode (McPherson and Peucker, who adds Bettina von Arnim and Rahel Varnhagen as well), and even Ulrike Meinhof (Fehervary). Other essays concern the establishment of an ongoing female literary tradition (Romero), of a female voice (Gilpin), of a female dialogic (Herrmann), and of a female subjectivity (McPherson, Love). The range and diversity of these various feminist perspectives allow the volume to highlight Wolf's feminist characteristics without turning her work into a dogmatic statement of a single feminist position. The analyses focus on issues of patriarchal tradition and the exclusion or repression of women; they convincingly demonstrate the increasing urgency of Wolf's concerns about women.

Second, the volume concentrates on the problem of language, and specifically of writing (as well as the inseparable act of reading), as a major theme for Wolf. In some rather innovative arguments, critics underscore various textual relationships in Wolf's work; they examine her use of "intertexts" (Herrmann), "subtexts" (Fehervary), and even "untexts" (Nägele) as well as citation (Brandes) and allusion (Ryan, Peucker, Werner, Huyssen). Some scholars feature Wolf's revisions of earlier genres or periods such as autobiography (Frieden) and Romanticism (Ryan, Peucker, Werner) or her debt to philosophical texts (Huyssen). A picture of skepticism toward the language of "instrumental reason" tempered by a faith in the power of literature to change reality emerges from these various analyses.

Finally these two topics of feminism and language coverage in a consistent concern among these essays with Wolf's political commitment (Heinrich Mohr's study is particularly central in this regard). Wolf's constant critique of the short-comings of the GDR with regard to individual development coupled with her strong commitment to Utopian literature (in Ernst Bloch's sense) and to a viable socialism form a refrain in this volume. These critics acknowledge both Wolf's socialism and her ability to question a system not fulfilling its Utopian promise. The volume thus...